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Rotavirus Overview

What is rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a contagious disease caused by a virus. Rotavirus causes watery diarrhea and vomiting in infants and young children. Children who become dehydrated might need hospitalization and can even die.

Rotavirus is transmitted from an infected person’s poop (feces). You can get rotavirus if you put something in your mouth (food, objects, hands) that has infected poop on or in it. The item can have the virus on it even if it looks clean.

Read more about rotavirus and how it affects people on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

What are the symptoms of rotavirus?

Symptoms usually start two days after a person is exposed.

Symptoms include:

  • Vomiting and watery diarrhea for 3 to 8 days.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Loss of bodily fluids (dehydration).

Dehydration is dangerous for infants and young children. Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Decreased pee (urination).
  • Dry mouth and throat.
  • Feeling dizzy.
  • Crying with few or no tears.
  • Unusual sleepiness or fussiness.

Adults who get rotavirus tend to have milder symptoms.

Who is at risk?

Although anyone can get rotavirus, it is especially dangerous for infants and young children.

Older adults, adults with compromised immune systems, and adults caring for children with rotavirus infection are at higher risk to get rotavirus.

Limit the spread of rotavirus

The best way to prevent rotavirus is to get a rotavirus vaccine. Before the vaccine was available in the United States, rotavirus was so common it infected virtually all children at least once before the age of 5.

To avoid rotavirus infection, people should:

  • Regularly wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching their mouths.
  • Avoid sharing food with others.
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects exposed to someone sick with rotavirus.

Rotavirus Vaccine

Who should get the rotavirus vaccine?

Babies should start the rotavirus vaccine series before 15 weeks of age. Depending on the vaccine, babies should receive two or three doses of rotavirus vaccine before they turn 8 months old. The vaccine is given via droplets in the baby’s mouth.

There is no catch up schedule for rotavirus vaccine if a baby misses vaccination.

Most cases of viral stomach flu (gastroenteritis) in adults are not caused by rotavirus. When adults are infected with rotavirus, they tend to have less symptoms than babies and young children. There are no rotavirus vaccines approved for adults in the United States.

What are the side effects of rotavirus vaccine?

The most common side effect of rotavirus vaccine is:

  • Irritability.
  • Mild, temporary diarrhea or vomiting.

This vaccine is continually monitored for safety. The benefits and side effects of this vaccine outweigh the risk of getting rotavirus.

Why is rotavirus vaccine important?

Before vaccines, rotavirus was the leading cause of severe diarrhea among infants and young children. Rotavirus vaccine has reduced hospitalization and death from rotavirus in babies and young children.

7 out of 10 babies completing a rotavirus vaccine series are protected from all rotavirus infections. 9 out of 10 vaccinated babies are protected from severe rotavirus.

Getting babies vaccinated from rotavirus protects them, their family, and the community.

Even with fewer cases, vaccines are still important because the United States still has outbreaks of disease in unvaccinated populations.

Vaccine Information Statement and Resources

The Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) is given to parents/guardians at the time of vaccination. It explains the benefits and risks of the specific vaccination.

Read the current Rotavirus VIS from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Additional resources for the public

Rotavirus Overview Page (CDC)

Additional resources for healthcare providers

Rotavirus Vaccine Page for Healthcare Providers

Childhood Vaccine Program

The Washington State Childhood Vaccination Program provides vaccines to children 18 years of age and younger at no cost. Rotavirus vaccine is included in this program.

View participating healthcare providers on the Department of Health’s Vaccine Provider Map.