Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea among infants and young children. It is a genus of double-stranded RNA virus in the family Reoviridae. Nearly every child in the world has been infected with rotavirus at least once by the age of five. Immunity develops with each infection, so subsequent infections are less severe; adults are rarely affected. There are five species of this virus, referred to as A, B, C, D, and E. Rotavirus A, the most common species, causes more than 90% of rotavirus infections in humans.
The virus is transmitted by the faecal-oral route. It infects and damages the cells that line the small intestine and causes gastroenteritis (which is often called "stomach flu" despite having no relation to influenza). Although rotavirus was discovered in 1973 by Ruth Bishop and her colleagues by electron micrograph images and accounts for up to 50% of hospitalisations for severe diarrhoea in infants and children, its importance is still underestimated within the public health community, particularly in developing countries. In addition to its impact on human health, rotavirus also infects animals, and is a pathogen of livestock.
Signs And Symptoms
Rotavirus gastroenteritis is a mild to severe disease characterised by nausea, vomiting,watery diarrhoea, and low-grade fever. Once a child is infected by the virus, there is an incubation period of about two days before symptoms appear. The period of illness is acute. Symptoms often start with vomiting followed by four to eight days of profuse diarrhoea. Dehydration is more common in rotavirus infection than in most of those caused by bacterial pathogens, and is the most common cause of death related to rotavirus infection. Symptoms of dehydration associated with Rotavirus include dizziness while standing, decrease in urination and dry mouth and throat.
Treatment And Prognosis
Treatment of acute rotavirus infection is nonspecific and involves management of symptoms and, most importantly, maintenance of hydration. If untreated, children can die from the resulting severe dehydration. Depending on the severity of diarrhoea, treatment consists of oral rehydration, during which the child is given extra water to drink that contains small amounts of salt and sugar. In 2004, the WHO and UNICEF recommended the use of low-osmolarity oral rehydration solution and zinc supplementation as a two-pronged treatment of acute diarrhoea.Some infections are serious enough to warrant hospitalization where fluids are given by intravenous drip or nasogastric tube, and the child's electrolytes and blood sugar are monitored. Rotavirus infections rarely cause other complications and for a well managed child the prognosis is excellent.