In addition to diarrhea and vomiting, foul-smelling stool is a sign of rotavirus.
Rotavirus is a virus that affects the digestive tract. It causes gastroenteritis, an infection of the gastrointestinal tract. Although kids 6 months to 2 years are the most at risk of it, rotavirus can affect people of any age.
You can contract rotavirus when its viral particles enter your mouth. This usually happens if you touch something contaminated and then put your fingers in your mouth without washing your hands first. Rotavirus is also transmissible through contaminated food.
Diarrhea and vomiting are the main symptoms of rotavirus. These symptoms can lead to dehydration, especially in kids. If fluids aren’t replaced or the illness lasts for more than about a week, dehydration can become serious. In some cases, dehydration can become a medical emergency.
Learn more about what rotavirus stool smells like, other signs and symptoms of rotavirus to look for, and what to do if you think you or your child has this virus.
While poop doesn’t smell good, stool from rotavirus can smell particularly bad. While any bad-smelling, watery diarrhea can be a sign of rotavirus, a slight sulfur or rotten egg smell is a characteristic sign of the condition.
The poop caused by rotavirus is usually very watery diarrhea. It may be green or brown in addition to smelling like rotten eggs.
Symptoms of rotavirus are similar to those of other gastrointestinal conditions, but there are some symptoms more specific to rotavirus.
Symptoms of rotavirus in children
- watery diarrhea
- abdominal pain
Symptoms of rotavirus in adults
The symptoms of rotavirus in adults are very similar to the symptoms in children. However, symptoms are usually milder in adults.
If you think you or your child has rotavirus, the most important thing to do is to drink lots of fluids to avoid dehydration.
In many cases, drinking water is OK, but make sure you’re also replacing the electrolytes you lose through vomiting or diarrhea.
Rehydration liquids like Pedialyte or Gatorade (for older children or adults) may be helpful. Avoid apple juice for children. It can cause diarrhea.
Other important things to do if you think you or your child has rotavirus include:
- staying home to rest, since rotavirus is very easy to transmit to others
- washing your hands often
- eating once the vomiting has stopped (usually after the first 24 hours)
- possibly taking antidiarrheal medication (only for children 2 years or older)
Call your baby’s or toddler’s doctor if they have symptoms of rotavirus or cannot stop vomiting.
Also call a doctor if you or your child has signs or symptoms of severe dehydration. In adults, these can include confusion and dizziness. In everyone, including babies and toddlers, signs and symptoms of severe dehydration include:
- not responding or acting as they normally do (in babies and toddlers)
- rapid heart rate or breathing
- sunken eyes
- high fever
- extreme thirst
- few wet diapers
- decreased urination (in older children)
- crying without tears
Rotavirus doesn’t usually need medical treatment in adults, but contact a doctor if you are also vomiting repeatedly.
You can treat most cases of rotavirus with at-home care. The best thing you can do is to keep your child hydrated and let the virus run its course.
If you or your child gets severely dehydrated, intravenous (IV) fluids may be required.
Older children and adults can take antidiarrheal medication if necessary. However, these medications should be avoided for children younger than 2 years.
You might still have questions about rotavirus. Below, we answer some of the most common questions about this condition.
Can you prevent rotavirus from spreading?
Practicing good hand hygiene is especially important for preventing rotavirus transmission. Wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer, throughout the day.
It’s especially important to wash your hands after changing diapers, caring for a sick child, and using the bathroom.
Children should keep their hands out of their mouths as much as possible.
But the best way to prevent rotavirus transmission is to make sure children get the rotavirus vaccine. This is part of routine childhood vaccinations.
Can adults get rotavirus?
Yes, people of any age can get rotavirus. However, children ages 6 months to 2 years are most at risk of serious illness.
How do doctors diagnose rotavirus?
The symptoms of rotavirus are similar to those of other gastrointestinal conditions. Because of this, doctors often look at symptoms and treat those rather than testing for rotavirus.
However, doctors will rule out any serious conditions, like appendicitis. They may also test for bacterial causes of symptoms. Bacterial infections can cause more severe illnesses and are sometimes treated with antibiotics.
A lab test is the only way to definitively diagnose rotavirus. This is usually only done if doctors think there may be an outbreak of rotavirus, or if symptoms won’t go away.
What other conditions cause foul-smelling diarrhea?
Many gastrointestinal conditions can cause foul-smelling diarrhea. These include:
- other infections, like norovirus
- Crohn’s disease
- celiac disease
- short bowel syndrome
- cystic fibrosis
Certain dietary changes, such as going on a high fiber diet, may also cause foul-smelling diarrhea.
Watery diarrhea that smells particularly bad is one sign of rotavirus, although it can also be a sign of other stomach issues.
If you or your child has bad-smelling diarrhea, the most important thing to do is to stay hydrated. Rotavirus doesn’t usually require medical treatment unless severe dehydration develops.