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Facts About...


What is it?

Rotavirus is a major cause of diarrhea in newborns and infants, especially in child care centres and children’s hospitals. The virus is also a common cause of diarrhea in the elderly and immuno-compromised living in long-term care homes. Sometimes, the virus can cause traveler’s diarrhea in healthy adults. In North America, rotavirus diarrhea typically peaks in cooler months.

How is it spread?

The virus is spread in feces. People infected with rotavirus can spread the virus by touching other people, surfaces, or objects if their hands are not thoroughly washed after going to the washroom. If a non-infected person touches the contaminated surface and then touches his/her mouth, the virus may enter the body, leading to infection. Rotavirus can also be found in a person’s respiratory tract and in respiratory secretions. The virus is present in the stool typically for up to 8 days, or longer in immuno-compromised patients (30 days or more).

What do I look for?

Symptoms usually occur 1-3 days after infection and usually last 3-8 days. These include vomiting, fever and watery diarrhea. Occasionally, rotavirus infection can lead to severe dehydration and death in young children. Signs of dehydration include thirst, restlessness, dry mouth and tongue, dry skin, irritability, fatigue, urinating less frequently, and/or for young children having a dry diaper for several hours. Drinking enough fluids is essential to avoid dehydration.

Children aged 4-24 months are most susceptible. By 3 years of age, nearly all children will have been infected with rotavirus. Permanent immunity to rotavirus is likely the result of multiple infections.

How is it treated?

There is no specific treatment for rotavirus infections. Rest and replacing fluids from vomiting and diarrhea are key. An electrolyte solution containing water, sugar and salts can help prevent dehydration, especially in children. This solution is available in most drug stores. For severe vomiting and/or diarrhea, or if you are concerned about dehydration, consult a doctor.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the washroom, changing diapers, and before and after preparing or serving food.
  • Wash hands or if hands are visibly clean use hand sanitizer when entering and leaving a healthcare facility or child care setting.
  • Vaccinate all infants. For more information on the rotavirus vaccine see Facts About... Rotavirus Vaccine or consult your doctor.
  • Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched. Washroom surfaces and diaper change areas should be cleaned and disinfected after each use using a chlorine-based disinfectant (e.g., 10% or 5000ppm solution of household bleach). Many common (non-chlorine) disinfectants do not kill rotavirus.
  • People ill with rotavirus-like symptoms should not handle food or care for others until they are symptom free for at least 48 hours.

More information can be obtained from

Durham Region Health Department, Environmental Help Line 905-723-3818 or 1-888-777-9613


May 5, 2017

For more information call
905-668-7711 OR 1-800-841-2729