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rotavirus,double-stranded RNA virus, genus Rotavirus, with a wheellike appearance that can cause severe watery diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes leading to severe dehydration and death. The virus is the most common cause of diarrheal disease in infants and young children. Disease symptoms develop about two days after infection and last for three to eight days; they also include fever, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. Treatment consists primarily of drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and the alleviation of other symptoms; there is no drug treatment for the virus. Mild dehydration may be treated with over-the-counter oral rehydration solutions; severe dehydration may require administration of intravenous fluids in the hospital.
Rotavirus infection is most dangerous in infants and young children. Most adults experience less severe symptoms, but adults with compromised immune systems and older adults are also susceptible to developing dehydration. Rotavirus disease is particularly dangerous and deadly in areas with poor sanitation and limited health care, and can leave infected children susceptible to other infections and prone to malnourishment. The virus is usually spread from person to person due to poor hygiene, but it may also be acquired from contaminated objects and surfaces or from contaminated food and water. Infant vaccination is recommended to prevent the disease. Infection may occur despite vaccination or a prior infection, but the disease is typically less severe in these instances.