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RotaTeq Vaccine Prevents Diarrhea in Children

Pediatrics Expert Advice from Henry Bernstein, M.D.

Q: A friend mentioned to me that there is a vaccine to prevent diarrhea in children. Is this something all children should receive?

A: You are correct – the RotaTeq vaccine for routine childhood immunization against rotavirus was licensed in 2006 in the U.S. Infection with rotavirus is a leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children worldwide. In the United States, the disease occurs more often during the winter, with the most activity occurring from November to May. Most children are infected with rotavirus before they are two years old. Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting due to rotavirus infection can lead to the loss of body fluids (dehydration), which in some instances may be severe enough to require hospitalization.

Once an infant has been exposed to rotavirus, it takes approximately 2 days for symptoms to appear. Infants and children develop vomiting and watery diarrhea that may last 3-8 days, and fever and abdominal pain occur frequently. A child may have rotavirus gastroenteritis more than once, because there are many different rotavirus types, but repeat infections tend to be less severe than the original infection.

The RotaTeq vaccine is a liquid given to infants by mouth, with the first dose given between 6-12 weeks of age and two additional doses administered at 4- to 10-week intervals. All three doses should be completed before a child reaches 32 weeks of age. RotaTeq may be given to pre-term infants according to their age in weeks since birth.

Another vaccine for rotavirus was withdrawn in 1999 because of cases of intussusception (a blocking or twisting of the intestine) associated with the administration of that particular vaccine. A large study of over 70,000 children did not show an increased risk of intussusception for RotaTeq when compared to those infants who received placebo.

You may wish to administer RotaTeq separately from other childhood vaccines, since not enough data are available to confirm that RotaTeq does not interfere with childhood vaccines that prevent pertussis when they are given at the same time.

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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.


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