Rotavirus has been found to be the most common cause of diarrhoeal deaths in children under the age of 2.

To tackle diarrhoeal deaths Karnataka to provide free rotavirus vaccines for infants Image for representation
Health Health Thursday, August 29, 2019 - 18:23

Rotavirus is a relatively common virus which usually doesn’t become fatal. However, this virus is also one of the most common causes of diarrhoeal deaths in children under the age of two, accounting for nearly 40% of such deaths. Recognising this, the Karnataka government has decided to provide free vaccines against the virus to children under the age of one. In July, the state government had announced its intention to add the rotavirus vaccine into the immunisation schedule. This will now be implemented in all healthcare facilities in the state, in both the private and public sectors.

According to a 2013 study by the Indian Journal of Medical Microbology, the mortality rates of children under the age of five due to diarrhoea in Karnataka is 21 per 1000 births, making it highest in the south. In an effort to decrease this rate, the state government has taken the initiative to ensure that children under the age of one are provided with the vaccine. As per the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare guidelines, 2.5ml of the vaccine should be given to the children as an oral vaccine, in a manner similar to the oral polio vaccine drops.

“Almost 40% of diarrhoeal diseases seen in children are due to rotavirus infection. The Government of India had initiated the means to introduce the vaccine against rotavirus in 2016. This was conducted in phases state-wise, and now it is being incorporated in Karnataka,” explains Dr Ranjani P, from the state Department of Health and Family Welfare to TNM.

She further adds that the vaccine will be given to children at the age of 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age.“It can be given to young children, but is most effective when given to children under the age of one,” she says.

The vaccine, which can cost up to Rs 600 in private hospitals, will now be available for free.

The prevalence of rotavirus infections in Karnataka has been researched previously. In a study published in 2016, the virus was found to be the most common cause of diarrhoeal diseases in young children. The study was conducted by the Regional Medical Research Centre in Belagavi.

What is rotavirus?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), rotavirus is responsible for over 200,000 deaths of children under the age of five each year. It also recommends that all countries include the vaccine against rotavirus in their immunisation schedules. So what is this virus and why it such a pressing cause of concern for public health around the world?

This virus causes diarrhea and inflammation of the intestines known as gastroenteritis. If left untreated, it can cause excessive loss of electrolytes in children which leads to a severe electrolyte imbalance and dehydration. This in turn can be fatal if not controlled and treated.

The infection often manifests in a manner similar to many other infections. The child will often develop a fever, vomiting, and loose stools.

Often times, antibiotics are prescribed for diarrhea, but in the case of diarrhea caused by the rotavirus, antibiotics will have no impact, as they are only effective against bacterial diseases. The vaccine on the other hand has been proven to be extremely useful against rotavirus. It is currently available in one of three forms - RV1, RV5, and Rotovac - which have been noted to be highly potent against the virus.

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