According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the biggest single cause of infant diarrhea and dehydration in the world is rotavirus. In fact, experts believe that by the age of five, nearly every child has experienced at least one rotavirus infection. Indeed, the resistance these repeated infections build up is a major part of the reasons adults are so rarely made ill by rotavirus. Unfortunately, not all infected children survive to adulthood; it is estimated that rotavirus gastroenteritis kills 450,000 children each year, typically by dehydration. Rotavirus destroys cells in the digestive system, leading to vomiting and then diarrhea that can last more than a week.
Adult immunity is somewhat a double-edged sword. While adults show no symptoms of the infection, the virus itself remains active, and can by transmitted from person to person as any other infection can. Statistics show sanitation having little effect on the incidence of rotavirus infection. What does help is vaccination. Rotavirus gastroenteritis is asymptomatic in infants younger than two months, and two months of age is when doctors recommend the first dosage of rotavirus vaccine to be given. Needed further doses—up to three all told—are given at two-month intervals subsequently. Pediatricians say rotavirus vaccination saves parents and health care facilities almost $1 billion since 2010.
That, perhaps, is one reason people are trying to make the vaccines easier to get. In New Zealand, a government-sponsored program aims to vaccinate every child born in the country. The goal of the program is to ensure that, by the end of 2014, at least 95 percent of toddlers under eight months in New Zealand have been vaccinated. Reports say that the program is on schedule and children are getting the protection they need.
The vaccine has additional benefit that researchers were not aware of. As well as causing gastroenteritis, rotavirus is associated with some forms of seizure disorder. Vaccinating children against infection, then has the further effect of reducing the risk of seizure-related hospitalization by 20 percent. That translates to preventing 5,000 emergency room visits due to seizure. That alone saves more than $7 million in health care costs. What’s more, researchers now say there are connections between rotavirus and type 1 diabetes. Though susceptibility to type 1 diabetes is hereditary, it requires a trigger to develop. Vaccination means rotavirus is not such a trigger.