Health 101: Rotavirus & Stomach Flu

What to Know About the Rotavirus Vaccine

In 2006 the FDA approved RotaTeq, an oral rotavirus vaccine (that means no shots) for babies. There are a number of different strains of rotavirus, but four are responsible for most infections in the U.S., says Nelson. The vaccine specifically targets these four strains.

In studies, the vaccine prevented 74 percent of all stomach flu cases caused by rotavirus and 98 percent of severe ones. It also reduced hospitalizations by 96 percent. The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend babies receive the vaccine in three doses, at 2 months, 4 months, and 6 months. While the benefits of the vaccine are clear, as with any drug, there are a few things to keep in mind. Talk to your pediatrician if you have any concerns.

  • There are slight side effects. Within a week of getting a dose, babies are slightly more likely to have mild, temporary diarrhea or vomiting than those who did not receive the vaccine.
  • Your child can still get stomach flu down the road. The vaccine only prevents the four most common strains, so kids who have been vaccinated can still catch different types of rotavirus or other bugs that cause stomach flu. However, symptoms will likely be less severe in children who've been vaccinated, says Dr. Cohen.
  • Be extra careful during post-vaccine diaper changes. "Healthy babies may shed the virus in their stool -- even if they don't exhibit any side effects," says Dr. Cohen. Make sure you're vigilant about hand-washing and diaper disposal in the first few days after each vaccine dose.
  • It's not right for all kids. The vaccine is not recommended for babies with suppressed immune systems because it can make them sick. It is also not approved for use in older babies or children -- all three doses must be completed before your infant is 32 weeks (7 months) old.

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