Researchers at Public Health Ontario and the Institute for Clinical Evaluation Sciences (ICES) say that there has been a 71% drop in babies hospitalized after being immunized against rotavirus, and they also report a 68% drop in visits to the emergency room caused by the nasty stomach bug.
Rotavirus is a severe form of viral gastroenteritis that causes a stomach infection, accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, fever and dehydration. This virus is highly contagious and can easily spread to others when a child gets sick. The duration of this virus is longer, and more likely to lead to hospitalization, than other forms of gastroenteritis. That’s why the immunization program was started in 2011.
Lead author of the research study is Dr. Sarah Wilson, a medical epidemiologist at PHO and an adjunct scientist at ICES. Wilson’s team looked at data from 2005-2013 that involved more than 864,000 hospitalization and emergency room records for rotavirus infections and acute gastroenteritis in Ontario, focusing on the time before the introduction of the province’s rotavirus vaccine program and comparing it to the time after the program was in place.
The researchers expected a significant drop in the numbers of infants and toddlers who needed hospitalization and emergency room care after being vaccinated, but were pleased to note that the immunization program also had an impact on older siblings, and more surprisingly, there was also a drop in rotavirus-related medical visits among adults, even those over 65 years old. Cumulatively, hospitalizations dropped between 20%-38% among all age groups.
Ten of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories now have publicly funded rotavirus vaccine programs. This infection is most common among infants and toddlers so it is offered early – when the baby is two months old and again at four months old.
Dr. Wilson says the vaccine is simple to administer: it’s an oral vaccine that tastes sweet and sugary. Doctors can easily give it when the infant comes in for their well-baby checkup.
This vaccination program is helping reduce instances of serious illness, not just for the babies it was designed for, but it’s also keeping older siblings and adults from contracting the highly contagious virus. The rotavirus vaccine is diminishing cases of an illness that has previously been a burden on the health care system.
The full results of the study are published in the journal PLoS One.