Rotavirus Vaccine
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Rotavirus Vaccine

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What Is Rotavirus?

Rotavirus is a virus that can lead to severe diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and dehydration. It is the leading cause of diarrhea in infants and children in the United States.

Rotavirus is transmitted through the stool and is easily spread via contaminated hands and objects.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all children are likely to become infected with rotavirus before their fifth birthday. Rotavirus is responsible for an estimated 400,000 doctor visits; 200,000 emergency room visits; 55,000-70,000 hospitalizations; and 20-60 deaths each year in the United States.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of interest in eating and drinking
  • Dehydration

Rotavirus is most common in the winter and spring. Its symptoms usually begin about two days following exposure. The vomiting and watery diarrhea can last from 3-8 days.

Treatment for rotavirus generally involves replacing lost body fluids by drinking fluids. Severe cases that warrant a visit to the hospital may require fluids given through an intravenous (IV) line.

What Is the Rotavirus Vaccine?

The rotavirus vaccine, called RotaTeq, is a live virus vaccine, which means it contains a living virus that is able to produce immunity to the disease. The vaccine is given by mouth. Studies have shown that it can prevent about 74% of rotavirus cases, about 98% of severe cases, and about 96% of rotavirus-related hospitalizations.

Who Should Get Vaccinated and When?

The rotavirus vaccine is given in three doses, the first at 6-12 weeks of age, with a minimum interval of 4 weeks between the first and second dose. The final dose is given by the time the infant is 32 weeks old. This vaccine is not recommended out of these age ranges, since there is insufficient data on its safety and efficacy in other age groups.*

What Are the Risks Associated With the Rotavirus Vaccine?

Most infants tolerate the rotavirus vaccine with no problem. However, children are 1%-3% more likely to have mild, temporary diarrhea or vomiting within seven days of receiving the vaccine, compared with children who have not gotten the vaccine. There have been no reported moderate or severe reactions associated with the rotavirus vaccine, but as with any vaccine, there is a small risk of severe reaction, such as a severe allergic reaction.

The rotavirus vaccine available today is different from the one used in the 1990s that was associated with an uncommon type of bowel obstruction called intussusception.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

Children who have had a life-threatening allergic reaction from a previous dose of rotavirus vaccine or any of its components should not get another dose. Also, children who are moderately or severely ill should wait until they recover to get the rotavirus. And children who have had a blood transfusion or those with weakened immune systems (eg, those with HIV infection or AIDS, those taking long-term steroid medications, or those with cancer) should check with their doctor before receiving the rotavirus vaccine.

Finally, because people who have had intussusception are at higher risk of getting it again, it is suggested they not receive the rotavirus vaccine.

What Other Ways Can Rotavirus Be Prevented Besides Vaccination?

It is important that you wash your hands and practice good hygiene, but these practices have not been shown significantly to prevent rotavirus.

What Happens in the Event of an Outbreak?

In the event of a rotavirus outbreak, authorities will test food and water sources to make sure they are not contaminated. To help contain person-to-person transmission, frequent hand washing and washing of surfaces is recommended. Soiled linens and clothes should be handled as little as possible and laundered with detergent and machine-dried.


National Network for Immunization Information

National Immunization Program
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nip. Accessed January 31, 2007.

US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/cber/vaccines.htm. Accessed January 31, 2007.

*Updated Who Should Get Vaccinated and When section on 1/31/2008 according to the following study, as cited by DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended immunization schedules for persons aged 0-18 years—United States, 2008. MMWR. 2008;57;Q1-Q4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MMWR website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5701a8.htm. Updated January 10, 2008. Accessed January 28, 2008.

Last reviewed February 2008 by David Horn, MD, FACP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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