Rotavirus (not rot-O-virus) is the leading cause of severe diarrheal disease in children. It causes about 20 deaths a year in the US from dehydration and leads to hospital admission for about 50,000 infants and toddlers. Worldwide it is a major killer of young children in developing countries.

The virus gets its name from its characteristic appearance under the electron microscope. It looks like a little wheel (rota in Latin, eel-way in Pig Latin 8-). It is spread by breathing as well as direct contact with fecal secretions (wash your hands a lot, Mom). The infection usually involves high fever, persistent vomiting, and diarrhea. The symptoms drag on for up to a week, and if a young child cannot be coaxed to take adequate amounts of fluids, he may become dangerously dehydrated.

Treatment, as for all viral diarrheal infections, is symptomatic and supportive: fever medicine (acetaminophen, ibuprofen) and specialized rehydration fluids such as Pedialyte®, Ricelyte®, Infalyte®, etc. If this doesn't work, hospitalization for intravenous fluids is in order.

An oral vaccine against rotavirus (Rotashield®) was licensed and recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta; it was subsequently withdrawn from use when a possible association with an increased risk of intussusception was discovered.

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