What Is Rotavirus?

The Leading Cause of Severe and Deadly Diarrheal Disease

Rotavirus is a virus that causes gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Rotavirus is the #1 cause of diarrhea in infants (0-11 months)1,2.

  • Rotavirus primarily infects the small intestine, destroying the surface tissue and preventing the absorption of nutrients, causing diarrhea3.
  • Typical symptoms can range from mild, watery diarrhea to severe diarrhea with vomiting and fever.


Rotavirus is 1 of several pathogens causing the majority of moderate-to-severe diarrhea in children under age 5.





Rotavirus particles (CDC)

  • Rotavirus is commonly spread from person-to-person.
  • It is highly contagious and passes easily through the fecal-oral route by way of contact with contaminated hands or objects, such as toys and surfaces, or through tainted food or water4-9.
  • The virus is incredibly resilient and can live on hands for hours and surfaces for days.
  • Interventions that prevent other forms of diarrhea—such as improvements in hygiene, sanitation and drinking water—do not adequately prevent the spread of rotavirus. 

1.Kotloff, K.L., et al., Burden and aetiology of diarrhoeal disease in infants and young children in developing countries (the Global Enteric Multicenter Study, GEMS): a prospective, case-control study. . Lancet, 2013. 382(9888): p. 209-222. 

2. Liu, J. et al. Use of quantitative molecular diagnostic methods to identify causes of diarrhoea in children: a reanalysis of the GEMS case-control study. Lancet, 2016. 388(10051): p. 1291-301

3. Estes, M.K. and A.Z. Kapikian, Rotaviruses, in Fields virology, vol. 1, D. Knipe, et al., Editors. 2001, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins: Philadelphia (EUA). 

4.PATH, Common virus and senseless killer: A briefing paper on rotavirus. 2009. 

5.Rodriguez, W.J., et al., Longitudinal study of rotavirus infection and gastroenteritis in families served by a pediatric medical practice: clinical and epidemiologic observations. Pediatr Infect Dis J, 1987. 6(2): p. 170-6. 

6.Black, R.E., et al., Incidence and etiology of infantile diarrhea and major routes of transmission in Huascar, Peru. Am J Epidemiol, 1989. 129(4): p. 785-99. 

7.Mrukowicz, J., H. Szajewska, and T. Vesikari, Options for the prevention of rotavirus disease other than vaccination. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr, 2008. 46 Suppl 2: p. S32-7. 

8.Simhon, A., et al., Low endemicity and low pathogenicity of rotaviruses among rural children in Costa Rica. J Infect Dis, 1985. 152(6): p. 1134-42. 

9.Zaki, A.M., et al., The detection of enteropathogens in acute diarrhea in a family cohort population in rural Egypt. Am J Trop Med Hyg, 1986. 35(5): p. 1013-22. 


The ROTA Council was created in collaboration with an advisory group of 24 child health leaders from around the world. We promote the use of rotavirus vaccines as part of a comprehensive approach to addressing diarrheal disease.

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