This virus occurs in toddlers and young children only and is considered to be the most common type of food poisoning in that group.

This along with norovirus is referred to as ‘stomach flu’ although this can be misleading as influenza is not one of its symptoms. What does happen with this virus is that unlike norovirus, immunity is built up which reduces the severity of any subsequent infections.

In other words, you start to develop immunity to rotavirus the first time you contracted this virus. This immunity then increases each time you are infected which also reduces the extent of the infection.

This is why it is very rare for an adult to develop rotavirus.

But children are a different matter. Their immune systems are underdeveloped and less able to fight off bacteria and viruses which include the rotavirus.

But once a child has experienced a bout of rotavirus then they develop an immunity to this which increases each time they get this infection. The highest rates of infection occur in children under 2 and decrease up until middle age.

Rotavirus is part of the Reoviridae family of viruses which are responsible for gastrointestinal and respiratory infections. There are 5 subspecies of viruses within this group but rotavirus A causes around 90% of infections.

Causes of rotavirus food poisoning

This virus can be transmitted via the respiratory system but the main forms of transmission are:

  • Sharing toys and other objects with an infected child
  • Touching a contaminated surface
  • Failure to wash the hands properly after visiting the toilet

Symptoms of rotavirus food poisoning

There is a period of time (known as the ‘incubation period’) before the symptoms appear. The first symptoms of rotavirus appear 48 hours after contact/exposure to the virus.

They include:

  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Watery diarrhoea

Complications of rotavirus food poisoning

The main risk with this type of food poisoning is dehydration. If excessive amounts of fluid are lost then dehydration will occur which in some cases requires hospital treatment.

This is especially problematic in babies and young children. If a young child experiences a severe bout of diarrhoea then it can result in a rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes which can be fatal.

So what are the signs of dehydration?

If you are the parent of a child who has developed rotavirus then be aware of the risk of dehydration. The symptoms of this include:

  • Sunken eyes (they will appear to have sunk into the skull)
  • Tiredness
  • Thirst
  • Failure to urinate
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Dry skin
  • Dry mouth and tongue

If you notice any of these symptoms then contact your GP.

Treatment for rotavirus food poisoning

Babies or young children who develop rotavirus will require treatment in hospital. This will reduce the risk of dehydration.

Older children and adults can be treated at home.

Your GP will take a stool sample to confirm or reject a diagnosis of rotavirus. This involves him/her obtaining a small sample of your child’s faeces which is then sent for laboratory analysis.

Your GP may test your child’s blood and urine as well.

The will enable him/her to determine if your child’s illness is caused by rotavirus and not some other type of virus or a bacterial infection.

Antibiotics are not prescribed as they are ineffectual against viruses. What your GP will suggest is that you give your child plenty of fluids and if need be, supplement them with re-hydration powders which can be purchased at your local pharmacy.

These powders are a form of oral re-hydration therapy which means that they replace essential vitamins and minerals, e.g. sodium, lost during this illness.

Preventing rotavirus poisoning

This is a very common form of illness which all children will have experienced before their 5th birthday. It is difficult to prevent as it is very easily passed between people or touching an infected surface.

Plus children are not always as careful as adults about hygiene: for example, they do not always wash their hands before eating or after visiting the bathroom. These are two of the most forms of transmission for this virus.

It is important to encourage your child to do both of these things but that can be easier said than done.

This is a highly contagious virus which thrives in places where large groups of children are in close contact with each other. For example, schools and nurseries where there is person to person contact or where children are likely to play with toys or other objects which have been handled by an infected child.

Rotavirus is rare in adults so if an adult develops this illness then it may be attributed to something else apart from food poisoning.

Food Poisoning Guide

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