Rotavirus is highly contagious, and every child is at risk. Infants and children under the age of 2 years face the greatest risk of infection. Rotavirus causes gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. It primarily infects the small intestine, destroying the surface tissue and preventing the absorption of nutrients, causing diarrhea. Typical symptoms can range from mild, watery diarrhea to severe diarrhea with vomiting and fever.
Each year, rotavirus diarrhea kills about 200,000 children in countries around the world and
hospitalizes hundreds of thousands more, despite the fact that safe, effective vaccines exist that can protect children from this disease.
Prevention, protection, and treatment make up the framework of the GAPPD, a 2013 global plan from UNICEF and WHO and endorsed by the ROTA Council. The GAPPD represents the first-ever effort to protect children simultaneously from pneumonia and diarrhea. Rotavirus vaccines are essential to a comprehensive approach to fighting diarrhea, which consists of:
When children do become sick with rotavirus, mild to moderate cases can be treated with oral rehydration solution (ORS)—which is a simple mixture of appropriately constituted electrolytes and water—and with zinc supplements and appropriate case management. However, diarrhea that results in severe dehydration may require IV fluids and urgent medical care. Rotavirus cannot be
treated with antibiotics or other drugs.
Rotavirus vaccines are the best tool available today to prevent rotavirus. Rotavirus vaccines are a critical tool in fighting rotavirus because improvements in drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene, which can prevent other forms of diarrhea, do not adequately prevent the spread of rotavirus.
Good health practices can help protect children from diarrhea. These practices include exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life and providing appropriate complementary feeding after six months.
Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea, and every child is vulnerable. Vaccines are safe, effective and the most powerful tool to protect children from rotavirus. In countries where they are in use, vaccines are already saving the lives and improving the health of countless numbers of children.
Despite the WHO recommendation that rotavirus vaccines be introduced into every country’s national immunization program, 94 million infants still do not have access to this critical intervention. These countries should prioritize the vaccines now—millions of illnesses and tens of thousands of deaths can be prevented through rotavirus vaccination.