Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea and diarrhoeal deaths in children worldwide
WHO recommends universal rotavirus vaccination
Leading cause of severe and fatal diarrhoea in children
Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe and fatal diarrhoea in children under five years of age. WHO estimates that more than 450,000 children under five die from rotavirus infection -- nearly 1,200 each day. Worldwide, approximately 37% of hospitalisations for diarrhoea in under-fives are due to rotavirus.
Nearly every child in the world will suffer a rotavirus infection by their third birthday. While rotavirus infects children in every country, more than 95%1 of rotavirus deaths occur in low-income countries in Africa and Asia, where access to treatment for severe rotavirus-related diarrhoea is limited or unavailable.
Nearly every child in the world will suffer a rotavirus infection by their third birthday.
Children 6 months to 24 months are most vulnerable to infection, and they can pass rotavirus to family members and other people with whom they have close contact. In addition to severe watery diarrhoea, symptoms include vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. In serious cases, children urgently need intravenous fluids, or they risk dying from dehydration.
Improvements in water quality and sanitation, which help prevent other types of diarrhoea caused by bacteria and parasites, do not adequately prevent the spread of rotavirus. The virus is so contagious and resilient that improving hygiene also has little impact on preventing illness or death.
Map of the global burden of rotavirus diarrhoeal disease
Rotavirus vaccines save lives and costs
Vaccination is the best way to prevent severe rotavirus infection – it cannot be cured with drugs such as antibiotics. WHO recommends that rotavirus vaccines be included in all national immunisation programmes.
More than 2.4 million child deaths can be prevented by 2030 by accelerating access to lifesaving rotavirus vaccines in GAVI-eligible countries, where 95% of deaths due to rotavirus occur.
Each year, in GAVI-eligible countries, use of rotavirus vaccines could prevent an estimated 180,000 deaths and avert 6 million clinic and hospital visits, thereby saving US$ 68 million annually in treatment costs2.
Countries that have introduced rotavirus vaccines have seen a dramatic improvement in child health. Recent studies show the swift and significant impact of rotavirus vaccines in the two to five years following their introduction in national immunisation programmes.
In Mexico, diarrhoeal deaths in children five years of age and younger plummeted by 46% during 2007-2009, in the three years following vaccine introduction3. In the United States, El Salvador, Belgium, Austria, Finland and Australia, between 2007 and 2012, hospitalisations and clinic visits for rotavirus-related diarrhoea in children five years of age and younger have declined by a striking 50% to 90%.
This dramatic reduction of severe and fatal diarrhoea following the introduction of rotavirus vaccines underscores the incredible potential for rotavirus vaccines to save children’s lives.
1Source: Tate JE, Burton AH, Boschi-Pinto C, et. al. 2008 estimate of worldwide rotavirus-associated mortality in children younger than 5 years before the introduction of universal rotavirus vaccination programmes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 2012;12(2):136–141.
2Source: Atherly DE, Lewis KDC, Tate J, Parashar UD, Rheingans, RD. Projected health and economic impact of rotavirus vaccination in GAVI-eligible countries: 2011-2030. Vaccine. 2012;30(Suppl 1):A7–A14).
3Source: New England Journal of Medicine 2011; 365:772-773 / August 25, 2011