Rotavirus—child vaccine

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: May 25th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Diphtheria [dip-THEER-ia], pertussis [per-TUSS-iss] and rubella [ru-BELL-ah] are among the dangerous diseases young children in the U-S are vaccinated against. Now a new vaccine’s being added to the mix, one that protects kids from the leading cause of gastroenteritis.

Nearly every young child catches it before entering school. It’s a viral infection that produces vomiting, diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. An intestinal germ called rotavirus [RO-tuh-vi-rus] is the culprit. And although most cases are treated at home, rotavirus infections lead to about fifty-five-thousand hospitalizations of infants and young children in the U-S every year. The picture is grimmer in other parts of the world. Diarrhea is one of the top two causes of death among children under age five worldwide, and rotavirus kills more than a half-million kids a year.

A federal advisory panel recommends that every child receive the rotavirus vaccine, which includes three oral doses before six months of age. An earlier version, produced by a different pharmaceutical company, was pulled off the market in 1999 after it was found to increase the occurrence of a serious type of bowel obstruction.

Doctors say no drug trial could ever be large enough to catch all possible side effects, but the safety testing for the new rotavirus vaccine was one of the biggest trials ever conducted, involving about seventy-thousand babies in eleven countries.

Public health experts point out that it’s always better to prevent disease than to treat it. Questions or concerns about the vaccine? Talk to your child’s pediatrician.