Gastroenteritis hospitalises 10,000 children a year in Australia. The most common cause is a virus called rotavirus. Associate Professor Tony Catto-Smith talks about vaccines developed for rotavirus.

Hello there and welcome. I’m associate professor Tony Catto-Smith, paediatric gastroenterologist at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. I joined the Editorial Advisory Board of the Virtual Gastro Centre 2 years ago. Today I’d like to talk about something that makes us all squirm a bit, something that is a bit difficult to talk about in public but really hits home if you get it: gastroenteritis.

The reason I’m excited about this topic is you’re about to see a lot less of it.

Each winter in Australia about 100,000 children are brought to their general practitioners with diarrhoea. About 1 in 10 of these, 10,000 children a year, need to be admitted to hospitals for rehydration. The most common cause of gastroenteritis is a virus called Rotavirus. It was discovered in the late 1970s by Ruth Bishop, a virologist working at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. The search for a vaccine was on.

Soon it was discovered but unfortunately this has been more difficult than it would appear. It has taken 30 years for an effective and safe vaccine to be developed. But that time has come.

Two vaccines have received approval from the Commonwealth Government to be included onto the National Immunisation Schedule: Rota Teq from Merck has been developed by adding 5 different molecularly engineered strains of the virus together; Rotarix from GSK is a naturally occurring virus obtained from a child who became infected but without developing clinical disease. Both offer greater than 90% protection against severe rotavirus gastroenteritis.

Both vaccines are equally safe and effective but Rotarix has the advantage of only requiring 2 doses, whereas Rota Teq requires 3. It’s important that the course for both should be finished by the age of 6 months.

Having said all this, there will be a window before the vaccines are available on the National Immunisation Schedule that will delay the disappearance of rotavirus gastroenteritis. It’s quite likely that the National Immunisation Schedule vaccine will not be available in time for the forthcoming winter. But both vaccines are available at present on private scripts and you can ask your GP about the advantages of having the vaccine for your infant now, before the winter is upon us.

So, severe rotavirus gastroenteritis, a cause of 100,000 visits to GPs in Australia a year, may soon be a dim, distant memory.

Thanks for watching. Have a great day!

More information on Rotavirus Infection (Viral Gastroenteritis)