Vaccine Slashes Hospital Stays for Diarrhea

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Harvard Medical School
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Vaccine Slashes Hospital Stays for Diarrhea

News Review from Harvard Medical School

June 9, 2014

News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Vaccine Slashes Hospital Stays for Diarrhea

Use of the rotavirus vaccine has dramatically reduced hospital stays for severe diarrhea among young children, a new study says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did the study. The first rotavirus vaccine was approved in 2006. Before that, the CDC said, this virus caused 55,000 to 70,000 hospital stays each year among U.S. children under age 5. About 20 to 60 children died each year. But those numbers dropped off rapidly. By the 2009-2010 season, hospital stays for rotavirus were down 94%, the CDC study found. Visits to the emergency room and doctors' offices for diarrhea also plummeted. Even children who had not been vaccinated were less likely to have rotavirus illness. That's because less of the virus was circulating, the study noted. Two rotavirus vaccines are now in use. Both are given by mouth. By 2010, about 78% of children under age 1 had received the full dose of vaccine. The numbers are still going up, the CDC said. The journal Pediatrics published the study. HealthDay News wrote about it June 9.



By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., M.H.C.M.
Harvard Medical School


What Is the Doctor's Reaction?

Diarrhea is no fun! Children who have it do not feel well. Diarrhea leads to water loss (dehydration). This can be very dangerous, especially in infants. Some have to spend time in the hospital. Some may die.

Rotavirus is a common cause of diarrhea in babies and young children. The first rotavirus vaccine was approved in 2006. Before that, this disease was a big problem. Almost all children in the United States had a rotavirus infection before their fifth birthdays. Each year:

  • Half a million young children had to see a doctor
  • More than 200,000 had to go to the emergency room (ER)
  • 55,000 to 70,000 stayed in the hospital overnight or longer
  • 20 to 60 died

A new study in the journal Pediatrics looks at how well the rotavirus vaccine has worked. Researchers looked at information on more than 406,000 children under the age of 5. This included:

  • Hospital stays
  • Trips to the ER
  • Visits to the doctor

The researchers compared rates in the 5 years before and 5 years after the vaccine came into use. The biggest drops were seen in the 2009-2010 rotavirus season. Compared with pre-vaccine years:

  • Hospital stays for kids diagnosed with rotavirus diarrhea went down by 94%
  • Hospital stays for any diarrhea went down by 54%
  • Trips to the ER for any diarrhea dropped by almost one-third (31%)
  • Visits to the doctor for any diarrhea dropped by 20%

The researchers also compared children who got the rotavirus vaccine with those who did not. During the 2010-2011 season, vaccinated children had 90% fewer hospital stays for rotavirus than those who did not get the vaccine. They also had fewer hospital stays and trips to the ER for diarrhea caused by any germ.

The vaccine even stopped the spread of rotavirus infection to children who did not get the vaccine. During the 2009-2010 season, hospital stays for these children went down by 77% compared with pre-vaccine rates.

The study authors estimate that between 2007 and 2011, the rotavirus vaccine reduced diarrhea-related visits by 1.5 million. It looks like the rotavirus vaccine works very, very well!


What Changes Can I Make Now?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the rotavirus vaccine for all babies. So does the American Academy of Pediatrics. Vaccination against rotavirus will protect your child from serious disease. It also will help stop the spread of rotavirus in the community.

The vaccine is very good at preventing diarrhea caused by rotavirus.

  • Almost all babies who get the vaccine will be protected from severe rotavirus diarrhea.
  • Most babies will not get rotavirus diarrhea at all.
  • The vaccine will not prevent diarrhea caused by other germs.

Rotavirus vaccine is taken by mouth (not a shot). Two brands are available. One requires 2 doses for protection. The other requires 3 doses. There are no other major differences between these 2 vaccines. Your baby gets the doses at these ages:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months (if needed)

Infants should receive all recommended doses of rotavirus vaccine in their first 6 months of life. The rotavirus vaccine can be given at the same time as all other recommended vaccines.

Like rotavirus, many vaccines are given as a series (not just one dose). Some require boosters every few years. Here is the CDC's latest vaccine schedule and advice for children up to 6 years old.

Ask any questions you have about vaccines at your child's checkups. You also can find reliable information on these websites:


What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?

The rotavirus vaccine will continue to be an important part of the vaccine schedule for children. Families should be sure that all babies get all recommended doses. If that happens, we can expect even fewer cases of serious rotavirus disease each year.

Research also will continue on how well the rotavirus vaccine affects the use of health care services and the cost savings it creates. 

Last updated June 09, 2014

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