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What Is the Rotavirus Vaccine Used For?

The rotavirus vaccine helps protect young children against a virus that can cause severe diarrhea that oftentimes may lead to hospitalization. At this time, there are no approved uses of the rotavirus vaccine for adults or children older than 24 weeks old (for Rotarix) or 32 weeks old (for RotaTeq), as it has not been adequately studied in these age groups.

What Is the Rotavirus Vaccine Used For?

As you probably have guessed, the rotavirus vaccine (Rotarix®, RotaTeq®) is used to prevent rotavirus. It is a routine childhood vaccine given by mouth in early infancy.
In March 2010, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended that Rotarix not be used, at least temporarily, since DNA from porcine circovirus type 1 (PCV1) has been found in the vaccine. This means that DNA from a virus found in pigs has been found in the vaccine. However, in May 2010, the FDA announced that it is safe to begin using Rotarix again, since PCV1 poses no known health risks to humans.
No similar problems have been found with RotaTeq.
Rotavirus is a virus that can cause severe diarrhea, often accompanied by fever and vomiting. It is the leading cause of diarrhea in infants and young children in the United States and worldwide. Before the rotavirus vaccine, rotavirus resulted in the hospitalization of approximately 55,000 to 70,000 children each year in the United States and the death of over 600,000 children annually worldwide.
Not all people who are infected with the virus will develop symptoms. If symptoms do occur, the illness typically begins suddenly. Common rotavirus symptoms include:
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Severe dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Upset stomach
  • High fever (greater than 102.2°F)
  • Loss of interest in eating
  • Mucus in stool.
There are no antiviral medications to treat rotavirus. Therefore, rotavirus treatment goals are focused on providing supportive care while the body fights the infection. Supportive care refers to treating symptoms, such as dehydration, that occur as a result of the rotavirus infection. Fortunately, for people with healthy immune systems, the body is able to effectively kill the virus, and after three to nine days, symptoms usually improve.
Large amounts of this virus are shed in the stools of infected people. This contaminated stool can easily spread to hands and objects.
Once the virus has entered the body, it travels to the small intestine, where it begins to multiply. Approximately two days later, symptoms can begin. This period between infection with the rotavirus and the beginning of symptoms is known as the "rotavirus incubation period."
Because improved sanitation and hygiene have not helped to decrease rotavirus much in the United States, the best way to protect an infant or child from this infection is through vaccination.
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Rotavirus Vaccine Information

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