Rotavirus rebound among infants prompts gastro warning

Cases have almost tripled in SA in the past year

A resurgence in rotavirus gastro cases among infants has prompted warnings from health authorities about the importance of hand hygiene and vaccination.

South Australian communicable disease experts have sounded the alarm after the number of rotavirus cases among infants more than doubled from 299 in 2016 to 658 so far in 2017.

Infants accounted for 60% of all rotavirus notifications, with total numbers across all age groups increasing almost threefold from 447 to 1255 in the last year.

SA Health’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Paddy Phillips says the increase in rotavirus among infants is worrying but preventable with good hand hygiene and vaccination.

“Following good hand hygiene, cleaning bathroom taps and toilets with diluted bleach, disposing of infant’s nappies immediately, and safely washing children’s toys helps to significantly prevent the spread of the disease,” he said in a statement.

A rise in rotavirus cases is being seen in other states, according to Dr Louise Flood, Acting Director of the Communicable Disease Control Branch at SA Health.

“At the moment, we don’t know what the reason [for the increase] is. Vaccine coverage is good,” she told Australian Doctor.

The most recent national rotavirus surveillance report, for 2015, noted the emergence of novel strains of the virus, which researchers said might pose a challenge for vaccine effectiveness.

However, Dr Flood said it was too early to pinpoint an explanation.

“There has been a change in the schedule to Rotarix from RotaTeq but other states have that so we don’t think it’s the reason,” she said.

“We’re putting out general messages about hygiene and to go to hospital if there are symptoms.”

Rotavirus used to be the major cause of acute severe gastroenteritis in young children but rates fell dramatically after rotavirus vaccine was added to the National Immunisation Program in 2007.

Professor Phillips said children with rotavirus gastroenteritis should be kept out of childcare or school until they had gone 24 hours without any vomiting or diarrhoea.

“It is important children receive all scheduled vaccinations at the directed age as delays can leave children susceptible to contracting many vaccine-preventable diseases,” he said.

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