The introduction of the first rotavirus vaccine in the United States in 2006 led to sharp reductions in hospitalizations for gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines that is marked by diarrhea and dehydration, researchers reported Wednesday. Rotavirus is one of the leading causes of gastroenteritis and was thought to be the cause of an estimated 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year before the introduction of the vaccine, Rotateq, in 2006 and the introduction of a second vaccine, Rotarix, two years later.
Epidemiologist Aaron T. Curns of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and his colleagues studied hospitalizations for gastroenteritis in 18 states accounting for almost 50% of the U.S. population. They compared rates for children hospitalized from 2000 to 2006 to those in the following two years. The team reported online in the Journal of Infectious Diseases that hospitalization rates for acute gastroenteritis dropped by 16% in 2007 and by 45% in 2008 compared with the earlier period. They estimated that about 55,000 hospitalizations were prevented during 2008 by the vaccinations, suggesting that the vaccine was highly effective at preventing most rotavirus cases.
The vaccines have been in the news recently because researchers have detected trace contamination of them by a pig virus that does not infect humans and that apparently causes no illness. In March, the Food and Drug Administration cautioned doctors against using the Rotarix vaccine because of the contamination. An FDA advisory panel earlier this month, however, said that both vaccines appeared safe and physicians should feel free to use them. The FDA has not yet issued a formal recommendation.
— Thomas H. Maugh II