For health professionals: Rotavirus

Find detailed information on rotavirus for health professionals.

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What health professionals need to know about rotavirus

Rotavirus has a double stranded RNA genome composed of 11 segments contained within 3 concentric shells. The outermost shell is composed of 2 proteins:

  • VP4 (P Protein)
  • VP7 (G Protein)

These proteins are important for vaccine development and immune response. The prevalence of rotavirus serotypes varies from year to year and by region.

However, G1P[8] has been detected consistently and is often the predominant strain in developed regions.

Clinical manifestations

Rotavirus infections can be asymptomatic or present with mild to severe symptoms. In some cases, infection can lead to severe dehydration and death.

Severity of infection is age-dependent, with clinically significant disease occurring most frequently in infants and young children. In Canada, healthy children experience self-limiting illness, rarely resulting in long-term sequelae.

Following a 1 to 3 day incubation period, cases develop fever, diarrhea and vomiting, either alone or in combination.

Rotavirus infections can cause:

  • electrolyte imbalance
  • mild to severe dehydration
  • secondary disaccharidase deficiency (in prolonged cases)

Subsequent rotavirus infections tend to be less severe compared to the first infection with the virus. Temporal associations of rotavirus infection with a variety of disease conditions have been described, including upper and lower respiratory infection.

Prevention and control

For information on vaccination, please consult the section in the Canadian Immunization Guide on rotavirus vaccine.

Diagnosis

Laboratory testing for rotavirus is not routinely done. Clinical symptoms are more often used to identify infection.

The most commonly used method to confirm a rotavirus infection is detection of the rotavirus antigen through enzyme-linked immunoassay.

Treatment

Rotavirus infections are self-limiting in people with healthy immune systems. The disease usually lasts a few days.

Treatment consists primarily of oral rehydration therapy to prevent dehydration. The resumption of a normal diet should be promoted after rehydration.

Surveillance

Health professionals in Canada play a critical role in identifying and reporting cases of rotavirus. See the surveillance section for more information on surveillance in Canada.

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