What is equine rotavirus?

Equine rotavirus damages the lining of the intestines, inhibiting digestion and absorption of food. It is one of the most common causes of diarrhoea in foals less than six months of age. Foals become infected when they ingest materials or lick surfaces contaminated with infected faeces.


Numerous techniques are used to detect rotaviruses in the faeces of foals. The initial discovery of rotaviruses in foals was by EM examination of faecal samples, but this requires specialised equipment and expertise.

Treatment of viral diarrhoea is generally supportive. Administration of lactase orally every 4–6 hours can help in the small-intestinal digestion of lactose and decrease the osmotic diarrhoea.

Management and Disinfection

disinfection techniques have effectively limited the spread of viral diarrhoea caused by rotavirus during outbreaks. Sick foals are highly infectious and should be isolated in the stall in which they originally became ill or moved to a designated isolation facility. Personnel should wear disposable gloves and cleanable boots and wash their hands with soap before and after handling diarrheic foals. Foot dips containing phenolic disinfectants outside the stalls of sick foals should also be used. Specific stall-cleaning equipment should be designated for cleaning only the stalls of diarrheic foals. Once the stall has been vacated, it should be cleaned of particulate material, washed with detergent, and then disinfected with phenolic compoundsBleach, chlorhexidine, and quaternary compounds do not appear to be effective disinfectants for rotavirus. Faecal material of sick foals removed from stalls should not be spread on pastures used for horses and foals, and care should be taken to avoid fecal contamination of alleyways. All stall-cleaning equipment should be disinfected. Stalls with dirt floors are difficult to adequately clean and disinfect. Removal of the top layers of dirt may be required.

Arriving horses and foals, including those returning from veterinary hospitals, should be isolated for ≥7 days before being introduced to the resident population. A vaccine for pregnant mares to induce colostrum antibodies directed at reducing the risk of rotavirus infection in their foals is available.