This week it was announced that the Rotavirus vaccine was going to be introduced into the routine schedule across the UK from next year. Here are some of your questions answered…
WHAT IS ROTAVIRUS?
Rotavirus is a virus (germ) and is the commonest cause of vomiting and diarrhoea in small children. Because it is a virus, there is no specific treatment as such - the body eventually gets rid of the virus in its own time.
WHAT DOES ROTAVIRUS DO?
Rotavirus causes gastroenteritis (diarrhoea and vomiting) in children. The virus mainly affects the intestines, which is why tummy pain and diarrhoea are the main features. The symptoms include:
- tummy pain
The symptoms usually last for about a week, but can take up to 2 weeks to settle down.
Most children can be treated supportively (rest, fluids, paracetamol) until things settle down. However, it can occasionally be severe and lead to dehydration, in which case the child may need to stay in hospital for treatment. Symptoms of dehydration include:
- dry mouth and eyes
- no tears produced when the child cries
- sunken appearance of the eyes
- weakness and drowsiness
- deep, rapid breathing
- passing urine infrequently
If you are worried that your child is becoming dehydrated then you should get them checked my a health professional.
WHAT IS THE ROTAVIRUS VACCINE?
The vaccine is given in the form of drops taken by mouth in 2 separate doses. It will start being given to all children under the age of 4 months from September 2013. The vaccine itself is nothing new - it has been used in many countries for several years with good results (including the US and Australia).
It is expected to halve the number of vomiting and diarrhoea cases caused by Rotavirus and lead to 70% fewer hospital stays - which is a big relief for parents and health professionals alike!
ARE THERE ANY RISKS?
The vaccine has been around for a long time and this has meant it has been examined closely for possible side effects. The main ones are diarrhoea and irritability which are usually mild and settle down quickly. There is a tiny risk of a condition called intususception (where the intestine 'telescopes' on itself) but this is extremely small.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOUR CHILD HAS ROTAVIRUS GASTROENTERITIS?
Make sure you keep your child comfortable (with pain/fever medication like paracetamol) and well-hydrated (with drinks). Remember that Rotavirus is highly contagious so it is really important to wash hands properly when dealing with diarrhoea and dirty nappies! Also, try to keep your child away from other children until the symptoms settle down because it spreads very easily.
If you are worried that your child is getting worse, is getting dehydrated, or is very unwell then make sure you take them to see a health professional. This is especially important in babies and the very young because they can get dehydrated more easily.