November 14, 2006
Rotavirus infections are a major cause of sickness in infants and young kids. In the United States, rotavirus infects 4 out of 5 children with the "stomach flu" (also known as gastroenteritis) by the age of 5, and each year accounts for roughly 3 million cases of diarrhea and 55,000 hospitalizations for diarrhea and dehydration in kids under 5 years old.
Now, a new vaccine for babies will provide an effective way to help fend off this leading culprit of early-childhood illness. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that the rotavirus vaccine be included in the lineup of routine immunizations given to all infants. The recommendation calls for three doses by mouth at around 2, 4, and 6 months of age.
Rotavirus infections are extremely contagious. They're usually passed along when kids put their fingers in their mouths after touching something that has been contaminated by infected feces (or poop). Parents and health-care and child-care workers can also spread the virus, especially if they don't wash their hands after changing diapers.
Signs of a rotavirus infection include fever, nausea, and vomiting often followed by abdominal cramps, and frequent, watery diarrhea. If your child has these symptoms, keep an eye out for some of these signs of dehydration:
- increased thirst
- sunken eyes
- a dry mouth and tongue
- dry skin
- fewer trips to the bathroom to urinate
- a dry diaper for several hours (in infants)
Call the doctor right away if your child shows signs of dehydration or you have any other concerns.
What This Means to You
The rotavirus vaccine, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this year, will now be just another immunization usually given during the routine check-ups of infancy.
In October 1999, a rotavirus vaccine called RotaShield, was taken off the market after it was linked to an increased risk for intussusception, a type of serious bowel blockage in young infants. However, the new vaccine, called RotaTeq, does not appear to increase the risk of developing this problem.
Immunizations can protect children from serious illnesses. That's why it's important that your infant be vaccinated on time. Immunization schedules can change over time, so talk to your doctor about what to expect.
Kids with diarrhea should be kept home from child-care, playgroups, or school until the diarrhea has stopped. If you're caring for your child who has diarrhea, make sure to wash your hands often, particularly after going to the bathroom, when caring for another child, and before preparing and serving food.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: November 2006