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Diseases / Rotavirus


What is it?: 

Rotavirus infections affect primarily the mature enterocytes on the tips of the small intestinal villi. Destruction of these cells reduces the absorptive capacity of the villi, resulting in diarrhoea.1

Rotaviruses infect nearly every child by the age of 3–5 years and are globally the leading cause of severe, dehydrating diarrhoea in children aged <5 years. WHO estimates that in 2008, approximately 453,000 (420,000–494,000) rotavirus gastroenteritis (RVGE)-associated child deaths occurred worldwide. Each year during the pre-vaccination era 1986–2000, >2 million children worldwide were hospitalized for rotavirus infections. In high income countries with temperate climates, distinct winter seasonality is typically observed.1


Clinical features: 

The disease is characterised by fever, vomiting and watery diarrhoea for 3 – 7 days. Abdominal pain is also frequently reported. Rotavirus gastroenteritis is a self-limiting illness in healthy persons. However, it is occasionally associated with severe dehydration in young children. Immunity after infection is incomplete, but re-infections tend to be less severe than the original infection.2

Mode of transmission: 

The primary mode of transmission is predominantly faecal-oral. Transmission can also occur through ingestion of contaminated water or food, or contact with contaminated surfaces. Outbreaks can occur among children in day care settings.2

Incubation period: 

Approximately 24 – 72 hours.2


Prevention of rotavirus infection is similar to that of other viral gastroenteritis. Good personal, food and environmental hygiene are the mainstay of prevention.2
Maintain good personal hygiene 2

  • Perform hand hygiene frequently, especially before handling food or eating, and after using the toilet. Wash hands with liquid soap and water, and rub for at least 20 seconds. Then rinse with water and dry with a disposable paper towel or hand dryer.
  • Refrain from work or school, and seek medical advice if suffering from vomiting or diarrhoea.
  • Exclude infected persons and asymptomatic carriers from handling food and from providing care to children, elderly and immunocompromised people.

Maintain good food hygiene 2

  • Adopt the 5 Keys to Food Safety in handling food, i.e. Choose (Choose safe raw materials); Clean (Keep hands and utensils clean); Separate (Separate raw and cooked food); Cook (Cook thoroughly); and Safe Temperature (Keep food at safe temperature) to prevent foodborne diseases.
  • Drink only boiled water from the mains or bottled drinks from reliable sources.
  • Avoid drinks with ice of unknown origin.
  • Purchase fresh food from hygienic and reliable sources. Do not patronise illegal hawkers.
  • Wash and peel fruit by yourself and avoid eating raw vegetables.
  • Cook all food thoroughly before consumption.

Maintain good environmental hygiene 2

  • Maintain good indoor ventilation.
  • Cleanse vomitus / faeces and disinfect the contaminated areas properly and immediately. Keep other people away from the contaminated areas during cleansing.
  • Wear gloves and a surgical mask while disposing of or handling vomitus and faeces, and wash hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Maintain proper sanitary facilities and drainage system.
  • Cleanse and disinfect toilets used by infected person and the soiled areas.

Vaccination 2

  • There are oral vaccines for infants which can prevent rotavirus infection effectively. Parents can approach their family doctors for further advice and information.

There is no antiviral drug to treat rotavirus infection. Drink plenty of liquids to protect against dehydration. Patient suspected to have dehydration should seek medical advice for proper management. 2


  1. World Health Organization. Rotavirus vaccine: WHO position paper. 2013.
  2. Centre for Health Protection. Communicable diseases . Rotavirus Infection. 5 Jul 2019. [ONLINE] Accessed on 16 Mar 2021.