Could the rotavirus vaccine be the answer to our yearly stomach flu problem?
Rotavirus is a virus that causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines, called gastroenteritis. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain and can lead to dehydration, especially in infants.
Before the rotavirus vaccine was introduced in the United States in 2006, rotavirus was the number one cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children.
Now there has been surprising new research that the rotavirus vaccine not only protects infants and young children, but perhaps adults as well.
Rotavirus Vaccine Study
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that adults were getting fewer cases of gastroenteritis after the rotavirus vaccine was given to infants.
Dr. Paul Gastanaduy and his team of researchers examined the pattern of gastroenteritis hospitalizations among children ages five years old and older and adults before and after the rotavirus vaccines was introduced. The researchers wanted to know whether or not indirect protection from reduced transmission of the virus extended over to adults – and it did.
There were not only 80 percent fewer hospital discharges among kids ages five and under after the post-vaccine years compared to before the vaccine was given, older kids benefited too. For children ages five to 14 years of age, there was a 70 percent drop in hospital discharges associated with rotavirus.
The big news was among the older populations, however. In young adults ages 15 to 24, there was a decrease of 53 percent, and a 43 percent decrease in adults ages 25 to 44. The reductions have also lasted for the last three years. According to this review, it looks like when your baby or young child receives the rotavirus vaccine, you may reduce your chance of developing gastroenteritis yourself, all because of a little thing called herd immunity.
Herd Immunity and Vaccines
Sound like something found on a farm? Herd immunity, or community immunity is when those who do not receive the vaccine or are not eligible (infants, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems) are protected against certain diseases and illnesses because the majority of the community in which they live in has been vaccinated.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, herd immunity can control a variety of contagious illnesses and diseases such as influenza, measles, mumps, rotavirus, and pneumonccal disease.
The more people who are vaccinated, the less chance that vaccine-preventable diseases can spread. However, in communities where vaccines aren’t prevalent, these diseases can spread quickly.
Stomach Flu Vaccine
Pediatricians give the rotavirus vaccine, a two part series, to infants at two months and again at four months. However, a three part series of the rotavirus vaccine is more common and given at two, four, and six months of age. The good news is that when your baby gets this oral vaccine, you may also be protected – according to the researchers, people ages up to 44 years of age are the most likely to experience the protection offered by this vaccine.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Immunization Schedule for Persons ages 0 to 18 years of age. (2013). Accessed August 29, 2013.
CBC News. Rotavirus vaccine for babies may protect others. (2013). Accessed August 29, 2013.
Gastanaduy, P., Curns, A., Parasha, U., et. al. Gastroenteritis Hospitalizations in Older Children and Adults in the United States Before and After Implementation of Infant Rotavirus Vaccination. (2013). Journal of the American Medical Association. Accessed August 29, 2013.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Community Immunity. (2010). Accessed August 29, 2013.