Rotavirus infection is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis—vomiting, diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain (otherwise known as stomach flu) in infants and young children—worldwide. While most children in Canada completely recover from rotavirus, infection can cause severe dehydration in young children. In low-income countries it is an important contributor to childhood mortality.
Rotavirus spreads easily. When someone is ill with the infection, the virus can be found within the stool. It spreads when children, their family members or caregivers come into contact with the virus though hands, toys, diapers or other objects that have small amounts of stool on them.
Before the launch of rotavirus vaccine programs, almost all children were infected by rotavirus by five years of age. Previous research, carried out before the start of vaccine programs in Canada, found that for Canadian children infected with rotavirus, one third would see a doctor, 15 per cent would visit the emergency department, and seven per cent required hospitalization. In Canada and other countries with temperate climates, rotavirus infections typically peak in the winter and spring.
Rotavirus vaccine is an oral vaccine that provides effective protection against acute gastroenteritis caused by rotavirus. Since August 2011, rotavirus vaccine has been given to babies at two and four months of age as part of Ontario’s publicly-funded immunization program. A recent study from PHO and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) found that hospitalization rates due to rotavirus infection in Ontario dropped by 71 per cent following the launch of the rotavirus vaccine program.