Rotavirus Vaccine Is Huge Success

If you still doubt whether vaccines work, consider the case of rotavirus.

The first of two present-day rotavirus vaccines was licensed for use in the U.S. in February 2006.

Since then, the rate of severe rotavirus infections seen in American children has plunged.

Rotavirus is a highly transmissible virus that causes gastroenteritis.

It once infected nearly all children in the U.S. by age 5.

Worldwide, it is still a major cause of illness and death in the young.

In the U.S., about 1 in 70 to 1 in 80 children who caught it were sick enough to be hospitalized.

About 1 in 200,000 children a year died from it in this country.

The virus is spread by the fecal-oral route. Symptoms usually start one to three days after a child has been exposed.

The infected individual will often have a fever, and most will vomit for about 24 hours.

A day or two later, watery diarrhea starts. Symptoms usually last three to eight days.

The first infection with the virus that a child has is usually the worst. The most severe cases of the disease are usually seen in children from 3 to 24 months of age.

The two rotavirus vaccines currently available both contain live viruses that give immunity to the disease without making the child ill. The side effects are about the same as a placebo.

Both vaccines are given orally and are started around 2 months of age.

One vaccine is given twice and the other is given three times.

They are both highly effective at preventing severe disease from rotavirus and also good at preventing milder disease from it.

Just like with an actual rotavirus infection, vaccinated children can get rotavirus when they are older, but the disease is usually milder.

In Central Kentucky, February and March were usually the peak months for seeing children sick with rotavirus gastroenteritis.

We would often have four or five children in the hospital at any given time getting IV fluids to treat the dehydration that this virus caused.

Now it is unusual for us to have anyone in the hospital with this particular virus (keep in mind that other viruses can cause similar symptoms, though).

By the winter of 2007-2008, the rate of rotavirus infection seen in the community dropped by 67-87%. Hospital admission rates also plunged.

The vaccines for rotavirus are safe, effective and should be given to any infant able to take them.