Sciensano collects data on rotavirus infections in order to follow the trends of this disease and its impact on public health in the Belgian population. Sciensano’s Belgian Official Medicines Control Laboratory (OMCL) is responsible, in cooperation with the European OMCL network, for quality control of the vaccine against rotavirus before it is put on the market.
Rotaviruses cause acute gastroenteritis, which can be severe and require hospitalisation in very young children. They are extremely contagious and are transmitted from person to person by the faecal-oral route (= by the mouth coming into contact with faeces, for example via dirty hands).
The infection is most common in young children aged 6 to 24 months. Every child in the world will encounter a symptomatic rotavirus infection before reaching the age of five. In Belgium, the Superior Health Council recommends vaccination against rotavirus for all infants.
What is rotavirus ?
Rotaviruses belong to the family of Reoviridae and they owe their name to the round shape of these viral particles. The virus is transmitted by the oral-faecal route. It is a highly infectious virus: a dose of 100 viral particles is sufficient to infect someone.
Rotavirus causes an acute gastroenteritis, characterised by vomiting and watery diarrhoea. Symptoms manifest generally two to three days after the infection, can persist for three to eight days and are accompanied by mild fever. Treatment options are limited; it is particularly important to maintain good hydration in order to avoid severe dehydration, the main complication of rotavirus.
Every child will encounter a symptomatic infection by rotavirus before reaching the age of five. The infection most frequently affects young children aged 6 to 24 months.
Rotavirus gastroenteritis is seasonal in countries with a temperate climate, with a peak epidemic each year during the coldest months.
Rotaviruses are transmitted primarily from person to person by the faecal-oral route, but transmission can also occur via contaminated objects (for example door handles, taps, toilet seats and toys), droplets suspended in air and water or contaminated food.
Diagnosis and treatment
The excretion of rotavirus can be confirmed by analysing a stool sample, mainly
through the detection of antigens or the detection of nucleic acid (PCR) in the stool.
Treatment is symptomatic and consists primarily of replacing lost fluids quickly. In the event of dehydration, hospitalisation may be necessary.
There is an oral vaccine which offers good protection against hospitalisation due to a rotavirus infection. In Belgium, the Superior Health Council recommends this vaccination for all infants. This vaccine is not made available free of charge in Belgium, but it is partially reimbursed by the NIHDI/RIZIV/INAMI.
At risk groups
Infants, who have not yet developed immunity to rotavirus (natural immunity or as a result of vaccination). People who are immunosuppressed are more at risk of prolonged excretion of rotavirus in the stools and of intermittent diarrhoea due to rotavirus.
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