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Rotavirus Vaccine Success

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I’m happy to read another vaccine success story which was recently published in JAMA. Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe dehydrating diarrhea in children worldwide and in the United States accounted for about 50% of acute gastrointestinal hospital admissions during the “rotavirus season” which typically runs from November – June depending where you live.

Rotavirus causes diarrhea in infants and children as well as adults. In many cases while a baby was having severe diarrhea and maybe associated vomiting and fever, their parents were also ill, but not as severely.  The stool of rotavirus was notorious and could easily be identified by a “seasoned” pediatrician. No one looked forward to the season of rotavirus diarrhea. With all of that being said, we are on the cusp of rotavirus season, but there is good news!

The rotavirus vaccine was first licensed in 2006 and is routinely given to children at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. The recent study in JAMA showed that the annual rate of rotavirus associated diarrhea among children younger than 5 years of age dropped by almost 75% during the first 2 years after routine vaccination started. In other words, the decline in disease was proportional to the increased rates of vaccine coverage. WOW, that is a true success story for the value of vaccines.

This translates into an estimated 65,000 hospitalizations that were prevented in children younger than 5 years of age, for the years 2007-2009.  I have noticed this in my own practice as I have not hospitalized a child for the last 4 years and I believe that the last child I remember being hospitalized was one of our young doctors own infants.  Fortunately, that child recovered with IV hydration and a few stressful days in the hospital for both parent and child. She is now a happy, healthy 4 year old. She had not received the vaccine at that time as she was too old to receive the vaccine when it was released. This vaccine must be given as a series of either 2 or 3 vaccines (depending on the brand that is used) and must be completed before a child is 8 months of age.

While rotavirus vaccine is readily available in the United States the virus continues to cause an estimated 500,000 deaths worldwide each year. Many of those children are in low and middle income countries where infants are not able to receive the vaccine. WHO has now recommended that the rotavirus vaccine be given worldwide, and with vaccine more readily available my hope is that there will be good news to report about further disease reduction and mortality, outside of the U.S. as well.

So, if you have a new baby, talk to your doctor about rotavirus vaccine, it doesn’t even hurt as it is an oral vaccine.  Win, win wouldn’t you say?

That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

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