What is rotavirus? Is in necessary for my baby to get it? These may be a prominent question on your mind after reading the immunization and vaccination charts, and it’s a question we’re going to try to help you answer.

Rotavirus is an infection which causes gastroenteritis in nearly all children, before the age of 5 years. It is transmitted through the faecal-oral route due to various reasons, including lack of sanitation/sanitation facilities (water being polluted with faecal matter) in developing countries such as India. It affects the cells which are in the lining of the small intestine. Symptoms of this infection include fever, vomiting, severe diarrhoea, and dehydration. These generally take two days to manifest, after the child is infected. It begins with vomiting followed by a week of severe watery diarrhoea. These symptoms are most severe in children between the ages of 6 months to 2 years, and in adults with immunodeficiency. 

Rotavirus is highly contagious and can be spread to other children as well as adults. Symptoms of this infection can be seen throughout the lifespan, but as we build immunity, infection rates decrease progressively. Some statistics connected with this virus are stated below:

In 2013, rotavirus caused 37% of deaths of children from diarrhoea and 215,000 deaths worldwide, and almost two million more became severely ill. Most of these deaths occurred in developing countries. In the United States, before initiation of the rotavirus vaccination programme, rotavirus caused about 2.7 million cases of severe gastroenteritis in children, almost 60,000 hospitalisations, and around 37 deaths each year. Following rotavirus vaccine introduction in the United States, hospitalisation rates have fallen significantly. Public health campaigns to combat rotavirus focus on providing oral rehydration therapy for infected children and vaccination to prevent the disease. The incidence and severity of rotavirus infections has declined significantly in countries that have added rotavirus vaccine to their routine childhood immunisation policies. – Wikipedia (WHO reports and other contributors)

Dehydration has been found to be the foremost cause of deaths related to rotavirus infections. Hence, hydration therapy is crucial for one infected by the virus. The above statistics show the severity of this virus. Lack of proper treatment can prove to be fatal for an infected child. In addition, it could lead to the spread of the disease to many other children who come in contact with the infected child, especially in the 2 day incubation period before the symptoms start to manifest.

The World Health Organization has recommended the addition of the Rotavirus vaccines in routine vaccination plans of countries. These vaccines have appeared to reduce 15-30% of the cases of severe diarrhoea in developing countries and 37-96% of these cases in developed countries. Immunizing babies would also lead to a reduction of cases in which adults are affected by this infection. These vaccines have reduced the incidence and severity of rotavirus infections in countries which have included Rotavirus vaccines in their national routine vaccination plans.

Rotavirus vaccines have not been found to have any direct relation with any other diseases/infections occurring consequent to them. However, it is recommended that babies who have had intussusception (a medical condition in which one section of the intestine folds into another part of the intestine) are not administered these vaccines. There are three Rotavirus vaccines available in India, currently:

1. Rotavac – This was manufactured in India in 2014 and contains one live strain of the virus. It is orally administered in 3 doses, each at an interval of 4 weeks, starting from when the baby is 6 weeks old.

2. Rotarix – This type of rotavirus vaccine contains one live strain of the virus. It is administered in 2 doses.

3. RotaTeq – This type of the rotavirus vaccine contains 5 live strains of the virus. It is orally administered.

The costs of these vaccines do not exceed those of other routine vaccinations. The Rotavirus vaccine is on the World Health Organization’s list of Essential Medicines, that lists the important medicines required for an effective basic health care system in a country.

It’s better to be safe than sorry. 

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