Rotavirus is a major cause of nonbacterial gastroenteritis, especially in infants and very young children (6 months-2 years of age) who have not received the rotavirus vaccine. Infection may be entirely asymptomatic or produce a spectrum of disease ranging from mild gastroenteritis to severe diarrhea and vomiting with dehydration. Infection usually begins acutely and lasts for 4 to 8 days. In temperate climates, rotaviral infections are seasonal; they peak in frequency during the winter months and are uncommon during the summer. Rotaviral gastroenteritis is, therefore, sometimes called "winter vomiting disease."
Infection is more likely to be symptomatic in preterm infants, immunosuppressed patients, and elderly individuals, especially those living in nursing homes or other confined quarters. In other children and adults, rotavirus infections are usually subclinical and may be associated with asymptomatic shedding of rotavirus in the feces.
Rapid and accurate detection of rotavirus antigens in stool specimens may lead to better patient management, particularly in hospitalized or institutionalized patients.