Babies in Scotland to be vaccinated against rotavirus

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BABIES in Scotland are to be vaccinated against a common highly infectious bug - a move which could cut infant hospital stays by up to 70 per cent.

It has been revealed that from September next year, babies aged between two and four months will be immunised against rotavirus.

The virus - which causes diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and dehydration - is currently thought to affect almost every child by the time they reach they age of five.

Health experts say it is the most common cause of gastroenteritis in infants and very young children.

In order to stem the large number of children who become infected, health experts have decided to immunise children against the virus at a cost of around £2.5 million a year.

Minister for Public Health Michael Matheson said: “Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhoea in young children and I welcome the use of any vaccine that can protect them.

“In some of the most serious cases, the infection can result in a hospital stay, which can be distressing for the children and their families.

It is thought that with the vaccine, there could be 70 per cent fewer hospital stays as a result.

“Rotavirus is highly contagious and can affect around 140,000 infants in the UK every year.”

The vaccine, called Rotarix, is already used in number of other countries including the USA, where rotavirus-related hospital admissions have fallen by as much as 86 per cent.

Just over 58,500 babies in Scotlandare expected to be offered the vaccine from September 2013. Experts say the programme can not begin before next autumn because it takes months for vaccine suppliers to manufacture enough vaccine to meet a patient needs.

The vaccine, given as mouth drops, will be given to infants in two separate doses with the other routine vaccines when children are two months old, then again at three months.

Dr David Elliman, immunisation specialist of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “This is an important advance as whilst rotavirus does not cause many deaths in the UK, it does cause a huge amount of suffering.

“Rotavirus affects large numbers of under-fives causing them diarrhoea for a few days. This vaccine will mean less pressure both on distressed parents who have to care for their children and of course the GPs and hospital services who are treating them.”