How Long Should a Child Stay Home with Rotavirus?

father checking daughter's forehead for fever
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Rotavirus is a gastrointestinal illness that is common among infants and young children. The contagious virus causes watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, rotavirus incubates for up to 48 hours, so if your child is exposed, symptoms won't appear for a day or two. The illness itself can last for up to 10 days and you should consider your child contagious for about 12 days.

Most daycare centers and schools provide guidance for how long to keep your child home to prevent rotavirus from spreading to other students.

Typically, a child needs to be symptom-free for at least 24-hours before returning to school after a rotavirus infection.

How Is Rotavirus Spread?

Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus. Most children will be infected with rotavirus at least once before their fifth birthday, and once a person has had the virus, they may get it again, although milder. Adults can also catch rotavirus, but since they have most likely had a previous bout of it, symptoms are typically milder.

The virus is contagious prior to symptoms appearing, and is spread through contact with infected stool. Rotavirus is resistant to most disinfectant cleaners, including anti-bacterial products. It can survive for a few hours on human hands and for days on hard surfaces. Because it spreads quickly, outbreaks among daycare centers and schools are common, with most outbreaks occurring between November and May in the United States.

Is Rotavirus Dangerous?

Many cases of rotavirus are mild and pass after a few days of uncomfortable symptoms. In some cases, however, vomiting and diarrhea can be severe and lead to dehydration. Babies under 1-year-old are especially vulnerable.

If during the virus, your child shows signs of dehydration including decreased urination, dry mouth and throat, dizziness upon standing, crying with few or no tears, or unusual sleepiness or fussiness, contact your healthcare provider.

How Long Should My Child Stay Home?

Official guidelines for how long a child should stay home after contracting rotavirus vary from state to state. In Texas, for example, there is no specific guideline for rotavirus, like there is for ringworm or pink eye. However, children with diarrhea, fever, or two or more vomiting episodes in the past 24 hours should be kept out of school.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, has rotavirus-specific guidelines that call for children to be excluded from care for as long as diarrhea is present. In this state, providers are also required to take as many as 10 stool samples for children and staff who show symptoms of the virus.

Most states have guidelines allowing any child to be excluded if they require more care than usual, to such a degree as it would be detrimental to the care of the whole group. Children with rotavirus often require constant attention since vomiting, fever, general discomfort, and the need for rehydration come along with diarrhea.

A safe bet, though, would be to keep your child home for as long as she experiences symptoms of the illness or discomfort. When returning to care, make sure the provider knows why your child has been out and give any special instructions for rehydration.

The Rotavirus Vaccine

Since the virus is highly contagious, many parents choose to vaccinate their child against rotavirus. Children who get the vaccine may still contract the virus, however, most cases in vaccinated children are milder.

Two rotavirus vaccines are available for infants in the United States and both are administered by putting drops in the child's mouth.

RotaTeq (RV5) is given in three doses and Rotarix (RV1) is given in two doses. The first dose is recommended before 15 weeks of age with the remaining doses recommended by 8 months old.

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Article Sources

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  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rotavirus. https://www.cdc.gov/rotavirus/about/index.html

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rotavirus Vaccine. https://www.cdc.gov/rotavirus/vaccination.html

  • National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Frequently Asked Questions About Rotavirus. http://www.nfid.org/idinfo/rotavirus/faqs.html