BACKGROUND: Rotaviruses are the major cause of severe childhood diarrhoea. Knowledge of the natural history of infection, including duration of intestinal virus shedding, is important in the understanding of transmission, sources of infection, and immune responses. METHODS: We carried out a study of rotavirus excretion in 37 children admitted to hospital with severe rotavirus diarrhoea. Sequential faecal specimens were collected from each child during 100 days of surveillance, and screened for rotavirus by EIA and by amplification of genome double-stranded RNA by reverse-transcription PCR. IgA coproantibody was estimated by EIA. FINDINGS: Duration of rotavirus excretion ranged from 4 to 57 days after onset of diarrhoea. Excretion ceased within 10 days in 16 (43 ) children, and within 20 days in 26 (70 ) children. Extended excretion was detected for 25-57 days in the remaining 11 (30 ) children owing mainly to continued excretion of the primary infecting strain. Extended excretion was significantly associated with antirotavirus IgA coproantibody boosts during 100 days of surveillance (p=0.001, log-rank test), and with recurrence of mild diarrhoea symptoms during convalescence (p=0.006, Fisher s exact test). INTERPRETATION: Severe rotavirus disease in young children may be followed by extended excretion of rotavirus. The risk of transmission to others may be greater than previously believed. Extended excretion could also explain some cases of the postgastroenteritis syndrome.