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Rotavirus in Children: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Rotavirus is a virus that infects the intestines of almost all young children by age 5. Children can get it more than once. But the first infection is often the worst.

This virus is often spread in settings where many children are together, such as day care centres. It spreads through contact with the stools from an infected child.

Vomiting is often the first symptom. Often, a fever and diarrhea follow. Most children with rotavirus have very watery diarrhea. This can seem like a large amount for a baby or small child. The most severe diarrhea lasts 4 to 8 days. But episodes of diarrhea can last long after your child starts feeling better. In some children, diarrhea can last for a few weeks.

Babies and very young children with the virus need to be watched closely. This is because they can become dehydrated very quickly. Dehydration occurs when the body loses water faster than it is replaced. This can cause serious health problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Watch for and treat signs of dehydration, which means the body has lost too much water. Your child's mouth may feel very dry. He or she may have sunken eyes with few tears when crying. Your child may lack energy and want to be held a lot. He or she may not urinate as often as usual.
  • Give your child oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte or Gastrolyte, to replace fluid lost from diarrhea. These drinks contain the right mix of salt, sugar, and minerals to help correct dehydration. You can buy them at pharmacies or grocery stores in the baby care section. Give these drinks to your child as long as he or she has diarrhea. Do not use these drinks as the only source of liquids or food for more than 12 to 24 hours.
  • Do not give your child apple juice, chicken broth, soda pop, sports drinks (such as Gatorade, All Sport, or Powerade), ginger ale, or tea. These drinks do not contain the right mixture of minerals and sugar to replace lost fluids. They may make the diarrhea worse.
  • Be safe with medicines. Do not give your child over-the-counter antidiarrhea or upset-stomach medicines without talking to your doctor first. Do not give bismuth (Pepto-Bismol) or other medicines that contain salicylates, a form of aspirin, or aspirin. Aspirin has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Wash your hands after you change diapers and before you touch food. Have your child wash his or her hands after using the toilet and before eating. The virus can remain in your child's stool for weeks after the symptoms are gone.
  • Make sure that your child rests. Keep your child at home as long as he or she has a fever.
  • Keep your child at home while he or she is sick and for a few days after feeling better. That's when the virus most likely can be spread to others.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child is confused, does not know where he or she is, or is extremely sleepy or hard to wake up.
  • Your child's stools are maroon or very bloody.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has signs of needing more fluids. These signs include sunken eyes with few tears, a dry mouth with little or no spit, and little or no urine for 6 hours.
  • Your child has new belly pain, or the pain gets worse.
  • Your child's stools are black and look like tar, or they have streaks of blood.
  • Your child has a new or higher fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child's symptoms are getting worse.
  • Your child is not getting better after 2 days (48 hours).
  • You have questions or are worried about your child's illness.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.