Rotaviruses are the leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children, causing dehydration that can be deadly if left untreated. Most severe rotavirus gastroenteritis occurs in low-income countries.

Facts & figures

450,000 deaths annually

among young children

2 million

hospitalizations per year

22% of rotavirus deaths

under age 5 occur in India

1/2 of fatalities under age 5

occur in India, Nigeria, Pakistan and DRC

215,000 children’s deaths

in 2013 compared to 528,000 in 2000


In low-income countries, rotavirus epidemiology is characterized by episodes of intense viral transmission against a background of year-round circulation. In high-income countries with a temperate climate, distinct winter seasonality is typically observed.

Transmission & infection

Each year, rotaviruses account for an estimated 450,000 deaths among young children and about 2 million hospitalizations. Rotaviruses are highly contagious and spread rapidly, presumably through person-to-person contact, airborne droplets, or possibly contact with contaminated toys. Symptoms usually appear approximately two to three days after infection, and include projectile vomiting and very watery diarrhea, often with fever and abdominal pain. The first infection is usually the worst one.

Treatment & prevention

There is no specific drug treatment for rotavirus infection, although oral rehydration therapy is recommended. Currently two vaccines are available internationally to prevent severe rotavirus disease. Both are administered by drops in the mouth.