Scope 40 - Protecting our children from Rotavirus

16 October 2009, Infectious and Parasitic Diseases

Complementing the Institute's cancer vaccine programme is the research of the Infectious Diseases Group, whose ultimate goal is to use vaccination to reduce the incidence of infectious disease in New Zealand. 

One particular virus of interest is Rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhoea and vomiting in children under the age of two. Infection with this virus leads to approximately 1000 hospitalisations in this country each year and a vaccine is the most effective public health measure for reducing the severity of this disease.

Two rotavirus vaccines have been recommended for inclusion in the national immunisation schedule but have yet to be funded. Since the potential effectiveness of the vaccines could be influenced by the particular types of Rotavirus causing the infections, a national, multicentre rotavirus strain surveillance study was established in 2005 to monitor New Zealand epidemics. 

Sample collection for this study was completed in 2008, the striking findings of which revealed a strong geographical link between the different rotavirus strains. For example during the first year of study the strains prevalent in the South Island differed significantly from those most prevalent in the North Island. 

The reason for these differences is unknown, but this study will be essential for making informed decisions about the introduction of the rotavirus vaccines.