Acute gastroenteritis and the rotavirus vaccination

By Dr. Luis Gonçalves [email protected]

Dr Luis Gonçalves is a Specialist Paediatrician in Neonatal Intensive Care and Coordinator of the Paediatric Unit at the Hospital Particular do Algarve in Gambelas, Faro

Acute Gastroenteritis is a common illness in the first few years of life, both in industrialised countries as well as in underdeveloped ones.

Viruses are the most common cause of Gastroenteritis, followed by bacteria and a small percentage due to unknown causes.

Of all the known viruses, the Rotavirus is the main cause of Gastroenteritis throughout the world. It is estimated that 600,000 children under five years of age die each year due to theillness caused by the Rotavirus.

In countries with a temperate climate, Gastroenteritis caused by this virus is most common during winter and spring.

The infection caused by the virus can affect children up to the age of five, the majority having at least one episode of Viral Gastroenteritis between the age of six months and 26 months.

The seriousness of this illness varies from child to child. Some children are almost asymptomatic while others suffer from severe dehydration and even death.

An infected child will develop certain symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, fever and stomach ache. The first three symptoms contribute to the loss of liquid and electrolytes, which can result in various degrees of dehydration (the principal complication of Viral Gastroenteritis), with the child needing to be admitted to the hospital.

The development of the Anti-Rotavirus Vaccination was crucial. The vaccine is presently commercialised in Portugal as well as in various other countries. The vaccine, administrated orally, is well tolerated, efficient and safe as far as complications are concerned. Its administration should be initiated as early in life as possible (never after the first 12 weeks of life) and completion should be at six months of age.

After administration, the vaccine provides protection from the virus for at least two years, the period at which the child is most vulnerable to the Rotavirus infection.

The Portuguese Paediatric Society, The European Society of Paediatric for Infectious Diseases as well as the European Society of Gastroenterology and Paediatric Nutrition recommend the universal vaccination of healthy children against the Rotavirus.