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i n f o r m a t i o n

t e c h n i c a l

Rotaviruses are nonenveloped, double-shelled viruses. They have a characteristic wheel-like appearance when viewed by electron microscopy (the name rotavirus is derived from the Latin rota, meaning "wheel"). The virus is quite stable in the environment. Rotavirus infections are responsible for approximately 3 million cases of diarrhea and 55,000 hospitalizations for diarrhea and dehydration in children under 5 years old each year in the United States. Although these infections cause relatively few deaths in the United States, diarrhea caused by rotavirus results in hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide every year. This is especially true in developing countries, where nutrition and health care are not optimal. In the United States and other countries with a temperate climate, the disease has a winter seasonal pattern, with annual epidemics occurring from November to April. Almost all children have had a rotavirus infection by the time they are 3 years old. Adults can also be infected, though disease tends to be mild. Rotavirus spreads very easily. The virus is transmitted by hand-to-mouth contact with stool from an infected person. The virus can be passed from one person to another by touching a hand contaminated by the virus. Merely touching a surface or object that has been contaminated by an infected person can also transmit the virus. The virus enters the body through contact with the mouth. Children can spread rotavirus both before and after they develop symptoms. Because the virus is stable in the environment, transmission can occur through ingestion of contaminated water or food. Infected food handlers may contaminate foods that require handling and no further cooking, such as salads, fruits, and hors d'oeuvres. The incubation period for rotavirus disease is approximately 2 days. Most children with rotavirus diarrhea recover on their own, but some children become very ill with severe vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of fluids (dehydration). Children with severe diarrhea can lose body fluids very quickly and may need to be hospitalized for special therapy to replace fluids and restore chemical balance. The seriousness of infection generally decreases with the number of infections. First infections tend to be the most severe.

May 04
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