Rotaviruses are a group of viruses that can infect a wide range of animals, including chicken, pigs, cattle and humans. They belong to the Reoviridae family, genus Rotavirus of which there are eight species referred to as A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H. Humans are primarily infected by species A, B and C, most commonly by species A. A–E species cause disease in other animals. Like the influenza viruses, rotavirus species have a number of different strains that are determined by two outer proteins, G and P. Rotaviruses are unenveloped with a three layered capsid and double stranded RNA genome.
Rotaviruses cause gastroenteritis (inflammation of stomach and bowel). Young children and animals are most susceptible, but adults may also contract the virus.
- In some animals infection can result in growth retardation or runting and stunting syndrome
Rotaviruses are mainly transmitted through the fecal-oral route. The viruses are stable in the environment and can therefore be spread through the consumption of contaminated water and food or contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. The reassortment of the genome segments enables the virus to mutate rapidly to produce new strains. This means that rotaviruses are able to jump from animals to humans and they are therefore classified as zoonotic viruses.
In temperate climates, outbreaks of rotavirus infection occur during the winter. In developed and developing countries the incidence of rotavirus outbreaks are about the same, suggesting that improved sanitation alone is not sufficient to prevent the infection.
Impact for Society – what are we doing?
Rotaviruses are among the most important causes of severe diarrheal illness in humans and animals around the world. Genome reassortment leading to cross species infections means that joint surveillance of animal and human rotavirus strains will be key in understanding the relationships between co-circulating viruses, as well as assessing vaccination programs.
At the Institute, current research is focussed on understanding the replication and expression of the genome of Rotavirus A at the molecular level. Information about the replication cycle of the viruses will have implications for the design of anti-viral compounds and vaccines. Understanding what makes Rotavirus A host species-specific is also being researched.