A Vaccine Preventable Illness


Rotavirus is the leading disease in children worldwide that causes gastroenteritis, meaning vomiting and severe diarrhea. Rotavirus is extremely transmittable between young children. Vaccination protocols for rotavirus are either in a series of 2 or 3 doses dependent on which vaccine being used, given between the ages of 2-6 months of age.


Looking back historically, acute diarrhea has been a major cause of death in young children worldwide. For the majority of that time, no infectious agent could be identified as the cause of this acute diarrhea for the majority of patients admitted to hospitals. That was until 1973, when a group of scientists in Australia were able to identify an abundant amount of particles of a 'new' virus, later to be known as rotavirus, in the cytoplasm of epithelial cells from the duodenal lining and feces of these inflicted children. rotavirus has now been shown to cause 40-50% of severe acute diarrhea in children worldwide, and > 600,000 young children die annually from rotavirus. Today, two safe and effective vaccines are licensed in 100 countries and in use in 17 countries.


Once a person contracts rotavirus, it takes about 2 days for symptoms to first appear.

Symptoms normally include and begin with:

  • Severe watery diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal Pain

Vomiting and diarrhea can last from 3 to 8 days. Additional symptoms also include; loss of appetite and dehydration.

Symptoms of Dehydration include:

  • Decreased urination
  • Dry mouth and throat
  • Feeling dizzy when standing up
  • Crying with few to no tears
  • Being unusually sleepy or fussy


Rotavirus is very easily spread between young children and infants. It can be spread both before children become sick, and after they become sick. Rotavirus is most commonly spread via feces, since that is where the virus is shed from the body to. The virus is shed the most when an individual is sick and during the first 3 days after they recover.

Rotavirus is spread via a fecal-oral route, and can be passed on by contaminated

  • Hands
  • Objects (i.e. toys and surfaces)
  • Food
  • Water


Infection of rotavirus in infants can lead to severe diarrhea, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and metabolic acidosis. The symptoms of rotavirus in children who are immunocompromised could possibly experience severe and prolonged gastroenteritis due to the virus. They could even potentially have evidence of abnormalities on multiple organs systems, specifically the kidney and the liver.


Rotavirus can be prevented by vaccination using either the RV5 (RotaTeq) or the RV1 (Rotarix) vaccine. Both of which are a licensed for use in the United States, and both are given as a live oral vaccine.

  • Vaccine efficacy for any rotavirus gastroenteritis was shown to be between 74-87%.
  • Vaccine efficacy for severe gastroenteritis was shown to be between 85-98%, providing never before seen protection against the worst this virus could cause.
  • Both vaccines significantly reduced the number of physician visits for diarrhea in young children and reduced rotavirus-related hospitalizations.

However, in countries that lack vaccination protocols for rotavirus, rotavirus still causes 40-50% of severe acute cases of diarrhea in young children. It also still is one of the largest contributors to infant death in places around the world that do not have vaccination protocols for rotavirus.

Rotavirus is a simple disease with massive consequences to those young children who become infected. It is easily vaccinated for, and should be some thing that is added to vaccination protocols every where. This is especially evident when taking into account that 95% of children experienced at least one rotavirus infection by the age of 5. Its important to realize that these infections do not become more severe or require doctors visits or hospitalizations due to most of those children receiving the vaccine.

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TEM revealing the ultrastructural morphology of intact rotavirus double-shelled particles.

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6-month old baby girl receiving an oral rotavirus vaccine.

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An infant who is infected with rotavirus, and is exhibiting severe dehydration. Notice the wrinkled skin on her hip, indicating dehydration.