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Anyone who has experienced rotavirus knows how horrid it can be, with days spent vomiting and on the toilet with watery diarrhoea, bent over with abdominal pain and fever.

Rotavirus infects and damages the cells that line the small intestine and causes gastroenteritis. It has also been found in extra-intestinal sites including blood, lungs, and liver.

The incidence of rotavirus gastroenteritis typically peaks during winter in temperate climates whereas in tropical settings it occurs year round.

Rotavirus is highly infectious – it can survive on hands for at least four hours and on hard surfaces for weeks.

Transmission is primarily by the faecal–oral route; person to person or via contaminated fomites (objects or materials which are likely to carry infection, such as clothes, utensils, and furniture), as rotaviruses are shed in large numbers for many days in vomit and diarrhoea.

It is easily spread through poor hygiene and not washing your hands after using the bathroom.

People who might live in overcrowded and poor housing conditions, who have a poor nutritional intake and drink untreated water are prone to becoming infected with the virus.

But it is not only isolated to this section of the population - in New Zealand, 90% of children will contract rotavirus by the age of three.

For those with healthy immune systems, rotavirus gastroenteritis is a self-limited illness, lasting for a few days.

The most serious complication of rotavirus is dehydration, with an associated weight loss – and severe dehydration can lead to death.


The spread of rotavirus can be minimised by thorough hand-washing after changing nappies or cleaning up vomit, after using the bathroom, before preparing food and before eating.

Children with either diarrhoea or vomiting should not attend school or childcare centres until they have stopped being ill for 24 hours.

There are two vaccines available at The Fono to help prevent the worst effects of the virus.

RotaTeq is an immunisation given to infants by mouth (orally) to protect them from severe rotavirus infection. It is free on the National Immunisation Schedule at six weeks, three months and five months of age - at the same visits as Infanrix-hexa and either Synflorix or Prevenar 13.

Meanwhile, Rotarix is available to anyone, but it is not funded and is quite costly. It is commonly used for people who are travelling overseas.

People can access these vaccines by ringing The Fono and speaking with a registered nurse.

Top tips when dealing with rotavirus:

  • Wash hands regularly – and always after using the bathroom 
  • Isolate the sick person at home 
  • Keep the patient hydrated – drink boiled water 
  • Visit the doctor early if the patient is not getting better or is dehydrated 
  • Get young children vaccinated against rotavirus 
  • Start feeding the patient bland foods such as toast or dry biscuits as soon as they feel ready to eat again

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