Anyone who’s ever cared for an infant or young child knows what it’s like to change the occasional smelly, messy diaper.//
While mild bouts of diarrhea aren’t uncommon in young children, moderate to severe diarrhea, lasting several days, could be a sign a dangerous infection in the intestines known as rotavirus gastroenteritis.
So how can parents tell the difference between normal diarrhea and diarrhea caused by rotavirus, and know when to call their child’s health care provider?
“Moderate to severe diarrhea, along with a persistently high fever, blood in the stool or vomiting, are some symptoms of rotavirus and should signal parents to seek medical attention for their child to prevent dehydration,” explains Janet Gilsdorf, M.D., director of Pediatric Infectious Disease and Immunology in the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Disease at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
She continues: “But because there are so many other causes for diarrhea, parents shouldn’t assume their child has rotavirus infection. The only way to diagnose rotavirus is through a test of your child’s stool, conducted by his health care provider.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rotavirus is one of the most common causes of severe diarrhea in infants and young children in the United States, although it can occur in children of any age and even adults.
Cases of rotavirus increase each winter and spring, and the disease tends to begin with a fever, an upset stomach and vomiting, followed by watery diarrhea. Infected children also may have a runny nose and cough.
Rotavirus is transferred from person to person, though contact with contaminated diapers, hands, or surfaces. Children infected with the disease occasionally need to be hospitalized, and in rare cases some have died from severe dehydration.
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