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What is rotavirus and why does my baby need to be immunised?

Rotavirus is a very infectious virus that causes the majority of serious cases of gastroenteritis in babies. It causes diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain, usually lasting around a week. Most children will be infected by rotavirus once by the age of five. Gastroenteritis (caused by the rotavirus) can cause severe dehydration due to extreme diarrhoea and vomiting. This is particularly serious in babies and they may need to be admitted to hospital to help keep them hydrated.

Premature babies usually have all their vaccinations at the same age (after birth) as other babies. This is the same with the rotavirus immunisation, which will be offered two months and three months after birth respectively.

About one fifth of children in the UK need medical attention before the age of five because of the effects of rotavirus, and one in 10 of those who need medical attention have to be treated in hospital.

How is rotavirus passed on?

The rotavirus is spread in tiny particles of poo on hands or surfaces. It can also be passed on from the mouth by kissing, sneezing and coughing, so it is very contagious. Good hand-washing habits are really important after going to the toilet and before preparing food or feeding your baby. However, the vaccination will provide even more protection for little babies from this nasty virus.

Is the rotavirus immunisation an injection?

No. The rotavirus immunisation used in the UK is called Rotarix. Like the polio virus, Rotarix vaccines are given in a liquid on your baby’s tongue.

When will my baby be due for the rotavirus vaccine?

Your baby will have the first dose at two months (eight weeks) and the second dose at three months (12 weeks). This will be timed so that she has the rotavirus immunisation on the same day as her other routine immunisations at two months and three months.

What if my baby misses her appointment for the rotavirus immunisation?

Your baby will be offered the doses a month later. So the first dose at three months and the second dose at four months.

However, if your baby gets older than 15 weeks and she has not received any rotavirus immunisation so far, then your doctor will probably not give her the immunisation at all. This is to protect her from a rare complication (which happens to two in every 100,000 babies of this age) of a gut blockage. This complication is even rarer in babies younger than 15 weeks and so the immunisation and protection from the very common rotavirus is recommended.

Which babies shouldn’t have the rotavirus immunisation?

The rotavirus immunisation is safe for most babies and has been used around the world for over five years without any reports of problems.

However, your baby should not have the rotavirus immunisation if she has:

  • Had an anaphylactic (extreme allergic) reaction to the first dose or any of the ingredients in the Rotarix vaccine
  • A medical history of intussusception (the gut blockage disorder of the intestines mentioned above
  • Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disorder (SCID)
  • Any rare inherited sugar intolerance disorders eg fructose intolerance, glucose-galactose malabsorption or sucrase-isomaltase insufficiency

Is the rotavirus immunisation produced inside eggs?

The Rotavix vaccine is not made in eggs and should be safe for babies with an egg allergy.

Does the rotavirus immunisation contain mercury?

No. Thiomersal (which is a mercury-based substance) used to be one of the ingredients in childhood immunisations but it has been removed from all the routine childhood vaccinations your baby will be offered.

Can my baby have the rotavirus immunisation if they are ill on the day?

Unless your baby has a fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, there is no need to delay giving your baby the rotavirus immunisation. Any delay would mean they are unprotected from rotavirus for a longer period of time.

Do I need to wash my hands after changing my baby’s nappy after she’s had her rotavirus immunisation?

Yes. You should always wash your hands after you change your baby’s nappy and this is even more important just after the immunisation, as a weakened version of the virus will be present in her poo. Although this will not harm a healthy person (as most of us have acquired resistance to the virus by five years old), it could be a risk to people around you and your baby if they have a weakened immune system, e.g. chemotherapy patients or people on long-term steroids, which weaken the immune response.

Will this rotavirus immunisation prevent my baby from vomiting and diarrhoea?

No. There are other viruses and bacteria that can cause tummy bugs. However, 80% of immunised babies will not suffer from vomiting if they are exposed to the rotavirus itself. The higher the percentage of immunised babies in the population, the harder it will be for the virus to spread.

Liked this article? Find out more about your baby’s immunisations


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