Rotavirus, a name most despised by parents, is a highly infectious virus that causes diarrhea in children which can last up to two weeks. It also causes vomiting and high fever. Rotavirus can be so severe that children can quickly become dehydrated and need hospitalization. It can infect people of all ages but the infection most often occurs and is more severe in children less than 5 years of age. Worldwide Rotavirus is responsible for 611,000 childhood deaths out of which more than 80% occur in low-income countries. (Taneja and Malik, 2012)*.
This virus spreads through the fecal-oral route i.e. infected people can infect others if they don’t sanitize their hands properly after a bowel movement. People caring for a rotavirus-affected child can spread this disease if they don’t sanitize their hands after cleaning the child or a nappy change. This virus then reaches the surfaces when touched and thus catches hold of their new prey. When one person in the family has caught Rotavirus parents need to be super attentive in their clean up, hand washing, laundry, food preparation and trash-related work.
Symptoms of rotavirus infection include fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, severe watery diarrhea, irritability and it can be diagnosed by testing the sample of the stool of the patient. The treatment includes antibiotic therapy along with extensive rehydration therapy because a child can quickly become dehydrated because of recurrent diarrhea and vomiting.
This hydration can be achieved by taking in extra fluids in the form of water and ORS (oral rehydration solution) available as a powder as well as tetra paks. As the vomiting subsides the child should be put on a liquid diet which can include clear broths of chicken or vegetables, diluted fruit / vegetable juices, ORS.
As a dip is seen in the frequency of bowel movements, the child should be gradually graduated from liquid to soft diet; but be sure to keep the child hydrated. Offer the child some light soft easy to digest foods like banana, stewed apple, boiled rice / pasta, khichri / gruels, strained vegetable puree (starchy vegetable like potato or easy-to-digest bottle gourd), washed pulses as soups. The last thing that should be introduced back into the baby’s diet is milk and milk products.
Foods to be avoided include Raw vegetables & fruits, high-fiber vegetables like tomatoes, beans, peas, etc., whole grain cereals & their products, whole pulses & split pulses, dry fruits & nuts, fried and spicy foods, fatty & tough meats.
How to prevent this infection?
Get your baby vaccinated as it will prevent the infection or even if your baby gets the infection it will decrease the severity of it. But there is a small hitch; the vaccine cannot be given once your baby is 8 months old. If your baby has crossed this mark be extra cautious about wiping and cleaning baby’s and your hands before they eat. The same goes for food preparation at least till they cross the 5-year mark.
8 children every 10 seconds will die of rotavirus infection before their 5th birthday. What we can do is to educate mothers to get their newborns vaccinated (remember it is only till 8 months) or to identify the symptoms and take timely medical aid.
*Taneja DK, Malik A. Burden of rotavirus in India – Is rotavirus vaccine an answer to it? Indian J Public Health 2012;56:17-21