Rotavirus, Vaccination, and Intussusception

15 01 2014

Rotavirus is a nasty little germ that targets our stomach and intestines, making them swollen, red, and sore.

The intestines help digest the food and liquid we take in, and they make poop out of what doesn’t get absorbed into our bodies.

When the rotavirus attacks, it can cause our poop to turn into watery diarrhea. Fever, vomiting, and pain are often part of the disease.

In younger kids and babies, the diarrhea and vomiting can be nonstop, causing a serious loss of body fluids (dehydration).

The CDC says that “Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children worldwide. Globally, it causes more than a half a million deaths each year in children younger than 5 years of age.”

We have effective vaccines—hospitalization rates have dropped 96 percent in the US since the vaccines became available, and the overall number of infections has plummeted.

There’s something that can happen that’s a rare side effect of the rotavirus vaccine. It’s called intussusception. The important thing to know is that intussusception happens anyway in the infant population, but with the vaccine, there appears to be a tiny increase in numbers of those affected.

Intussusception is when one part of the intestine slides into another, similar to a telescope closing. This causes a blockage in the intestines which requires hospitalization and sometimes surgery.

In the US, there are about 34 intussusception-related hospitalizations per 100,000 babies in the first year of life.

These cases happen whether a baby has been vaccinated against rotavirus or not. It’s called the “background” rate.

There has been a slight uptick in cases of intussusception with vaccination against rotavirus. For those babies vaccinated, the increase in rates of intussusception appears to be 1 to 5 cases per 100,000 babies.

We’re talking about this because a couple of studies have been done and these are the findings. It’s important to know all that we can when making health decisions for our children.

We parents don’t want to expose our babies to anything that might harm them. In the case of rotavirus disease and vaccination, it’s clear that the greater risk by far is the disease.

Talk to your baby’s healthcare provider and make the informed decision to protect your young one against rotavirus. It can be a deadly disease.


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