Rotavirus is a common cause of viral gastroenteritis (diarrhoea) in young children and babies. Around 1 in 75 infected children will develop severe disease leading to dehydration.
Rotavirus is spread when virus from the faeces of one person is swallowed by another person. This is also known as faecal–oral transmission. When proper hand hygiene (washing hands) is not carried out after changing nappies or going to the bathroom, virus can be on the hands and then be left on surfaces. It can then spread through hand shaking, by touching other objects or when preparing food.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms come on 1–3 days after being exposed to the virus. They include:
- watery diarrhoea
Severe cases can lead to dehydration.
Infants under 3 months may not show any symptoms.
Vaccination recommendations and coverage
Rotavirus vaccination has been funded under the National Immunisation Program since 2006. Since 2017, all states use the same 2-dose vaccine schedule, with vaccinations recommended at 2 and 4 months of age. Immunisation of older children and adults is not recommended.
Who is most affected?
Infants who are not immune to rotavirus – either from past infection or from vaccination – are at greater risk of the disease.
How common is it?
In the reporting period 1 July 2018–2019, there was a total of 7911 rotavirus notifications in Australia, 499 of which (9.1%) were in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Across all age groups under 5 years, notification rates were higher in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander than in other children, particularly in the 6 months to <1 year age group.
During the reporting period 2016–2019, there were 4145 hospitalisations for rotavirus in Australia; 518 (12.4%) of these were recorded as being in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Overall hospitalisation rates were 2.8 times higher for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people than for other people, and 8 times higher in the 6 months to 1 year age group.
There were seven recorded deaths where rotavirus was reported as an underlying or associated cause of death, of which 1–5 were recorded as being in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.