Before rotavirus vaccines were available, rotavirus was the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis in infants and young children in the United States and worldwide. Almost all children were infected by age 5 years. Before vaccine was introduced in the United States, rotavirus was responsible each year for about 3 million episodes of gastroenteritis, 410,000 physician visits, 205,000–272,000 emergency department visits, 55,000–70,000 hospitalizations, and between 20 and 60 deaths among children younger than age 5 years.
Ask the Experts: Rotavirus: Disease Issues
Rotavirus is contagious and the infection is usually spread from person to person, through the fecal-oral route. Fecal-oral transmission occurs when bacteria or viruses found in the stool of one person are swallowed by another person. This can occur when small amounts of fecal matter may be found on surfaces such as toys, books, clothing, etc. and on the hands of parents or child-care providers; but are usually invisible. Rotavirus may also be transmitted through intake of fecally-contaminated water or food or by respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough, drip, or exhale. Rates of the illness among children in developed and less developed countries are similar.
Yes. Rotavirus infection of adults is usually asymptomatic but may cause diarrheal illness. Outbreaks of diarrheal illness caused by rotavirus have been reported, especially among elderly persons living in retirement communities. For more information on this issue see www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/wk/mm6042.pdf, page 1456.