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What is rotavirus and how to avoid infection

Rotavirus is one of the main causes of severe diarrhea in children under five years of age in the world, causing around 200,000 deaths per year in this population.

People of all ages can catch the infection caused by this virus, however, the clinical manifestation is more prevalent in children under five years of age. Newborns typically have milder or even asymptomatic infections, this is due to maternal antibodies transferred during breastfeeding.

The virus belongs to the reoviridae family, of the rotavirus genus, and is divided into seven groups, each with different serotypes, five of which are mainly responsible for childhood infections.

The main symptoms of the infection are:

  • High fever and runny nose
  • Body ache
  • Constant vomiting
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Dehydration (in the most severe cases)

How is rotavirus transmitted?

Transmission occurs mainly through ingestion of contaminated water and food or through contact with objects that have the active virus.

Another way of infection is through contact with the feces of infected people or respiratory droplets from these patients. The virus is found in high concentrations in the feces of infected children and, when expelled, it spreads, starting new cycles of contamination.

Therefore, basic hygiene care with food, the quality of water consumed and hygiene of hands and objects are some of the most effective ways to protect yourself against the disease.

“It is important to clean objects and toys in daycare centers and schools, take hygiene care when handling food, treating water and paying attention when sharing objects and food among children”, explains Andrea Almeida, infectious disease specialist at Hospital do Servidor State Public of SP (HSPE).

Is there a vaccine for rotavirus?

Another way to prevent rotavirus infection is with vaccination, recommended for children under six months of age.

The vaccination schedule consists of two doses, the first at two months and the second at four months. This vaccine must be given with a minimum interval of 30 days between doses.

“It is best to vaccinate children in the first months of life, as the vaccine protects against infection and is safe, made from a live attenuated virus and administered orally, therefore it is well accepted by children”, adds Almeida.

However, the vaccine is contraindicated in some cases. Being them:

  • Children with immunodeficiency
  • Those who use immunosuppressants or chemotherapy
  • Who have uncorrected congenital malformation of the digestive tract
  • With a history of chronic gastrointestinal disease
  • Hypersensitivity to any component of the vaccine.

Diagnosis and treatment

The diagnosis of rotavirus infection is made through a specific laboratory test to check for the existence of the virus in the feces of the infected person.

There are no specific medications for treatment, what is done is to treat the symptoms of the disease.

“In general, rotavirus does not leave any consequences, but it can cause serious complications, mainly due to dehydration or the risk of another surgical complication called interception, where part of the intestine obstructs the path of feces, and, sometimes, it is necessary be resolved surgically”, says infectious disease specialist Max Igor Banks, from Hospital Santa Catarina – Paulista, in São Paulo.

For Banks, however, the biggest risk posed by rotavirus is dehydration.

According to experts, it is important to keep the child hydrated. Therefore, mild conditions can be treated at home, with homemade serum, plenty of liquid and maintaining the child's usual diet.

More serious conditions may require hospitalization.

The main symptoms of dehydration are: dry mouth, extreme thirst, decreased urine volume and irritability.

How to prevent?

The Ministry of Health listed some prevention actions that include hygiene practices and adequate food consumption. See them all:

  • Always wash your hands before and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, preparing food, breastfeeding, touching animals
  • Wash and disinfect surfaces, utensils and equipment used in food preparation
  • Protect food and kitchen areas from insects, pets and other animals
  • Store treated water in clean, narrow-mouth containers to avoid recontamination
  • Do not use water from contaminated streams, rivers or wells
  • Bag and keep the trash lid closed at all times

Source: CNN Brasil

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