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Last Updated: Friday, 29 June 2007, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
Calls for childhood vomiting jab
By Jane Elliott
BBC News, health reporter

Rotavirus credit: Dr Linda Stannard, UCT/SPL
Several candidate vaccines have been developed
Most children at some point will experience vomiting and diarrhoea, but while it is unpleasant it is seldom serious.

Others are not so lucky, however, and for them the gastric infection rotavirus can be very serious and prove fatal.

In the developing world, rotavirus kills up to 600,000 children a year.

Rotavirus is transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated water or food and contact with contaminated surfaces.

Affects most children

In the UK, it kills around four children per year.

A child with rotavirus may have up to 20 episodes of vomiting and/or diarrhoea in 24 hours.

Rotavirus gastroenteritis can cause significant distress and suffering to both the child and their parents
Dr Keith Lindley

And almost every child will have had an infection by the age of five.

It commonly affects under twos and is thought to account for up to half of all paediatric hospitalisations for gastroenteritis.

Rotavirus gastroenteritis also puts considerable strain on the NHS and society, costing an estimated 97m through hospital admissions, A&E visits and days lost at work.

Routine jab

In light of this, the expert advisory body, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has recently set up a sub-committee to consider whether to vaccinate all UK babies.

The European Society for Paediatric Infectious Diseases and the European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition recently advised that a rotavirus jab could be incorporated into baby vaccination timetables throughout Europe.

Rotavirus kills up to 600,000 children a year in developing countries
Symptoms include vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, dehydration and watery diarrhoea
Good hygiene can prevent the spread of rotavirus

Dr Keith Lindley, consultant paediatric gastroenterologist at the Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street, believes this would be a good idea.

"Rotavirus gastroenteritis can cause significant distress and suffering to both the child and their parents."

He said that although parents know little about the condition - with 84% having never heard of it - most children under five will have suffered at least one bout of the illness.

"It is very common, and it peaks in winter when half our children in hospital with gastroenteritis have rotavirus. "

To see him so lethargic and miserable was heartbreaking
Corrine, a mother of a boy who caught rotavirus

Rotavirus can cause significant distress and suffering to both the child and their parents, he said.

"The symptoms can go from being very mild to extreme dehydration."

In some severe cases, the dehydration causes lethal brain swelling.

Professor Pierre Van Damme, of the Centre for the Evaluation of Vaccination in Antwerp, Belgium, also believes vaccination is the way forward.

He said: "Vaccination is recognised as the only effective control measure to have a significant impact on the incidence of severe rotavirus gastroenteritis in children".

Protecting my son

Sohan was just two years old when he developed rotavirus.

He had a fever, profuse watery diarrhoea and began vomiting.

He completely lost his appetite and did not even want to drink, becoming severely dehydrated and, as a result, dropped four kilograms (nearly nine pounds) in weight in a week.

Luckily for Sohan, his mother, Corinne, works in public health and suspected rotavirus. She was able to get him tested and knew how to ensure he had plenty of replacement fluids.

Corinne said: "I treated Sohan with plenty of fluid.

"I also gave him paracetamol for the fever and plenty of rest.

"Sohan is usually a little boy who smiles all the time, and jumps and runs, like any other toddler. To see him so lethargic and miserable was heartbreaking."

A week later, Sohan was on the road to recovery and a year later he has no ill-effects.

The World Health Organization says there are two rotavirus vaccine candidates developed by multinational companies that show good promise of efficacy and safety.

Several new vaccine approaches are also being pursued.

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