Rotavirus

Page last updated: 20 April 2015

Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis in infants and young children, causing around half of all hospitalised cases in children under five years of age. Children can be infected with a rotavirus several times during their lives, and infection can occur despite very high standards of hygiene.

This highly contagious virus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoea in young children worldwide, and can also cause vomiting, fever and acute dehydration. Before the vaccine was introduced in Australia in 2007, it is estimated that rotavirus caused about 10,000 hospitalisations among children under five years of age each year. On average, there are two deaths due to rotavirus in Australia each year.

Causes

Rotavirus spreads by contact with infected faeces and might also be transmitted through faecally contaminated food, water and respiratory droplets.

Symptoms

The illness can begin abruptly with vomiting one to three days after infection, often before the onset of diarrhoea. The spectrum of illness ranges from mild, watery diarrhoea of limited duration to severe, dehydrating diarrhoea with vomiting, fever and shock. Symptoms generally resolve after three to seven days.

Prevention

The rotavirus vaccine is the best way to protect children against rotavirus disease, and is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation. The vaccine contains a small amount of inactivated live rotavirus. The rotavirus vaccine is free under the National Immunisation Program Schedule. To receive rotavirus immunisation, visit your local doctor or immunisation provider. It is important to note that although the vaccine is provided at no cost, a consultation fee may apply.

Doses of rotavirus vaccine are given at two and four months of age, or two, four and six months of age, depending on the vaccine brand used. There are strict age limits for the administration of the vaccine and it is very important to give each dose on time, as late (“catch-up”) doses cannot be given. The safety of the vaccine has not been tested in older babies or children. It is vital, therefore, to ensure that your child receives this vaccine as close to the recommended age as possible (two, four and six months of age). Immunisation of older children or adults is not recommended. Rotavirus vaccines are for oral administration only. Under no circumstances should rotavirus vaccines be injected.

Immunisation against rotavirus is achieved using single-disease vaccines. It is recommended that you complete that vaccine course with the same brand of vaccine. If this is not possible, due to relocation or other reasons, please discuss your individual requirements with your immunisation provider.

Rotavirus and Intussusception

Evidence has shown there is a slightly increased risk of intussusception, a bowel condition, associated with rotavirus vaccination. The increased risk of intussusception following rotavirus vaccination is estimated as approximately six additional cases of intussusception among every 100,000 infants vaccinated, or 14 additional cases per year in Australia.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) have reviewed recent evidence and found that the benefits of rotavirus vaccination outweigh the risks associated with it. ATAGI recommends the continued use of the rotavirus vaccine for infants under the National Immunisation Program. It is important for parents to be aware of the risks and benefits associated with rotavirus vaccination.

More information for parents and carers on rotavirus and intussusception.

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