Rotavirus vaccine to be introduced for babies

A vaccine to prevent illness caused by rotavirus will be introduced in the UK, much of the media reports.

The news is based on a Department of Health announcement that the rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix, will be added to the routine childhood vaccination schedule next year.

Rotavirus is a highly infectious stomach bug that causes around 140,000 diarrhoea cases a year in under-fives in this country. It leads to hospital stays for nearly 1 in 10 of those who get it.

The vaccine is expected to be introduced in September 2013 and will be given to infants under the age of four months.

It is estimated that the vaccine will halve the number of vomiting and diarrhoea cases caused by rotavirus and there could be 70% fewer hospital stays as a result.

The vaccine, Rotarix, is already used routinely to vaccinate children in the US and several other countries. In the US, rotavirus-related hospital admissions have fallen by as much as 86% since the vaccine was introduced.

"Rotavirus spreads very easily and affects around 140,000 children every year, causing distress for them and their families. Many people think of diarrhoea as something that all children get and that you have to put up with.

"But there is a way to protect children from this. I'd encourage all parents of young children to accept this vaccine when the programme begins next year."

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation, Department of Health

Rotavirus is a virus that causes infection of the stomach and bowel, and is spread in faeces (poo). It is most often spread when someone who is infected does not wash their hands properly after going to the toilet.

Rotavirus can be a serious illness in the very young. The gastroenteritis it causes usually begins with the symptoms of diarrhoea and is sometimes accompanied by vomiting. The child may develop a tummy ache and they may also have a fever (high temperature) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above.

The symptoms of diarrhoea usually pass within five to seven days. Most diarrhoea symptoms in children will not last more than two weeks.

Very young children have the highest risk of severe complications, which can result from extreme dehydration. A very small number of children die from rotavirus infection each year.

The dehydration caused by the symptoms of gastroenteritis can be treated with rehydration solutions available from pharmacies.

Read more about dealing with a baby's diarrhoea and vomiting.