Rotavirus is a very infectious tummy bug that is extremely common in babies and young children and it can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea and lead to hospitalisation.

Fortunately Rotavirus vaccine is now free for babies, starting at their first six-week immunisations, in a change to New Zealand’s immunisations that came into effect in July 2014.

Rotavirus usually starts with a sudden onset of vomiting and watery diarrhoea which can last from 3 to 8 days. Other symptoms are fever and abdominal pain.

One in five children need medical attention for it before they turn five and one in 43 become so severely dehydrated that they need to be treated in hospital.

Rotavirus is highly contagious and spreads through contact with the faeces (poo) of an infected child or adult.  Rotavirus can still be infectious for up to two weeks after the start of the illness.

Unlike most vaccinations the Rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq, isn’t an injection, it’s a liquid that is squirted into your baby’s mouth as oral drops. The vaccine protects against rotavirus by preventing more than two thirds of all rotavirus infections, and almost all severe rotavirus infections.

Millions of babies worldwide have had the RotaTeq vaccine since it was first licensed in 2006 and hospitalisation for rotavirus dropped by 70% in Australia since the vaccine was first publicly funded there.

The vaccine can only be given to young babies and the first of three doses must be given before the age of 15 weeks and the last by 8 months. This is primarily because research has shown that the vaccine is safe for babies at that age.

The vaccine can cause mild diarrhoea, so it’s even more important than usual for parents and caregivers to wash and dry their hands after nappy changing, in the days after vaccination.

Almost all young children catch rotavirus and while it can be a mild illness, in some cases it is more severe.  For two months, rotavirus was an “ongoing nightmare” for Waikato pharmacist and pharmacy manager, Jan Goddard’s family. The second day after her daughter Abigail started at daycare, when Jan returned to part-time work after seven months parental leave, Jan arrived to find that eight of Abigail’s new playmates were home with a tummy bug.

Five nights later was the start of day and night vomiting, diarrhoea, breastfeeding and washing.  Rotavirus is easily spread and it’s usually several days after infection before the symptoms appear. Jan’s six year old daughter Molly also caught the bug, just as test results after a doctor’s visit confirmed that Abigail had rotavirus.

“Rotavirus spreads like wildfire,” says Jan who was scrubbing and disinfecting every surface in the house to prevent further spread of infection.

Jan tried to continue to work part time with her parents looking after Abigail.  However, Abigail got worse, Jan’s parents got the virus and then Jan went down with it, having to rely on her sister to help with the children.

Jan remembers vividly the impact of rotavirus on Abigail and her family: “I still can’t forget the smell and sense of exhaustion and concern.  It can be so devastating and there is such a fine line with health. It she hadn’t stayed hydrated, she could easily have ended up in hospital.”

With the Rotavirus vaccine now free parents can immunise their babies against rotavirus starting at their six week immunisations. More information on rotavirus and the free vaccine can be found at: http://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/conditions-and-treatments/diseases-and-illnesses/rotavirus.

This post was sponsored by the Ministry of Health

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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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