According to an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), serious disease in unvaccinated older children and adults can be prevented by infants being vaccinated against rotavirus. Results of the investigation are published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Among infants and young children, rotavirus is a major cause of severe diarrhea, with between 58,000 and 70,000 pediatric hospitalizations each year prior to the vaccine. Hospitalizations from children under 5 with severe infections has be considerably reduced since routine rotavirus vaccinations started on infants in the U.S. in 2006.

Investigation author Ben Lopman, PhD, and colleagues set out to determine whether the benefits of the vaccination also extended to older children (5+), adults, and the elderly who are not eligible for the vaccine. To find out whether hospital admissions for rotavirus and severe diarrhea declined among children and adults who were unvaccinated, nationally-representative records from 2000 to 2008 were analyzed.

Hospital admissions connected to rotavirus decreased in all age groups, notably in those aged between 5 to 24 years who were not eligible for the vaccine. Dr. Lopman noted that March was the highest month for rotavirus infection, and results showed this month to have the largest reduction in hospital admissions, together with a considerable reduction in rotavirus admissions for individuals 25 years and older and for severe diarrhea admissions in the elderly.

Dr. Lopman said:

“We speculate that vaccinating infants curtailed rotavirus transmission in the community, resulting in fewer infections across the entire population.”

In 2008 approximately 10,000 hospitalizations of children 5 and older were prevented, which amounted to a health care saving of roughly $40 million.

Dr. Lopman explained:

“Our study showed that the burden of rotavirus – severe enough to require hospitalization – in older children and adults is larger than we were previously aware. And by vaccinating infants, we can indirectly prevent this burden of disease, thereby amplifying public health and economic benefits of infant vaccination.”

In an additional report, Roger I. Glass, MD, PhD, director of the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health, expects that a similar method could have a huge impact in the prevention of deaths and severe disease caused by rotavirus in developing countries.

Dr. Glass concluded: “Each year, 600,000 children die as a result of rotavirus infection in low-income countries, including those where rotavirus occurs year-round. Further research is needed in these settings,” stating the benefits and challenges of introducing such a program in low-income countries.

Written by Grace Rattue