The most common cause of acute, severe diarrhoea in infants and children is infection with rotavirus. This is a highly contagious virus that spreads rapidly, especially between February and April. Even contact with the smallest amounts of virus particles triggers an illness.
Infants between the ages of six months and two years are most affected by rotavirus infections. This is because the immune system is not yet fully developed at this age. However, older children and people over the age of 60 often also suffer from diarrhoea caused by rotaviruses. In adolescents and adults, a rotavirus infection usually causes only mild diarrhea - the more severe forms of gastrointestinal infections in this age group are usually due to infections with noroviruses.
The disease is contagious as long as the viruses are excreted in the stool. This infectious period usually lasts for about eight days from the onset of symptoms.
The name rotavirus is based on the wheel-shaped structure (Latin rota for wheel) of the viruses when magnified with an electron microscope. Seven different virus groups (serotypes A to G) are distinguished, each of which is again subdivided into different subgroups. Serotype A has the greatest clinical significance.
In Germany, infection with rotavirus is a notifiable disease, whereas this is not the case in Austria.