Rotavirus infections affect mainly the mature enterocytes on the tips of the small intestinal villi. Enterocytes are responsible for absorbing water and electrolytes from undigested food. Destruction of these cells reduces the absorptive capacity of the villi, resulting in diarrhoea.
Rotavirus is a contagious virus that causes Rotavirus Gastroenteritis, RVGE (inflammation of the stomach and intestines).
How is RVGE contagious?
This virus is passed out in the stools (faeces) of people infected. It can be transferred to food, objects and surfaces, if the infected person doesn’t follow the basic hygiene like washing hands after going to the toilet. The infection spread to other people when they either eat contaminated food, or touch a contaminated object or surface and then touch their mouth. This is very common for children going to Play school. Rotavirus can infect your baby as early as 6 months and it infects almost each child by the age of 3-5 years.
Symptoms of Disease:
Severe watery diarrhea, often with vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain are the symptoms of RVGE. Infants and young children about 5 years are more prone to severe RVGE. They can become severely dehydrated, leading to electrolyte disturbances. This may lead to urgent hospitalization and death. Older children and adults and can also become infected with Rotavirus but have milder symptoms. A child can suffer from vomiting and watery diarrhea for 3 to 8 days. Parents or caregivers should watch out for additional symptoms, like loss of appetite and dehydration (loss of body fluids), which can be especially harmful for infants and young children.
Symptoms of dehydration include a decrease in urination, dry mouth and throat, crying with few or no tears and unusually sleepy or irritated.
What should we do if we see these signs?
No specific therapy is currently available against Rotaviruses. So, the only thing which comes to the rescue is fluid replacement with solutions like low-osmolarity oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc doses. They can prevent dehydration and thus decrease the severity and duration of diarrhoea. Exclusive breastfeeding of infants till 6 months of age is highly recommended in India, as it decreases the instances of contracting the infection due to poor hygiene. But, still all babies cannot escape this nasty pathogen, even under the care of today’s careful and aware parents. Babies can get the best chance to live with Rotavirus vaccine drops.
Fact: Neither natural infection with Rotavirus nor Rotavirus vaccination provides full immunity (protection) from future infections of Rotavirus. Therefore, vaccinated children also develop the disease, but in the such milder form that one will surpass it as a normal episode of stomach upset.