Authorities in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland (QLD) are reporting a spike in the number of rotavirus cases being reported in children under five years old.
The number of people suffering from the virus, which is the most common cause of severe gastroenteritis in children and babies, is reaching levels not experienced in the last five years.
The reason for the surge is unknown, leading health officials to consider whether the structure of the virus has changed, making people more susceptible to it. Dr Vicky Sheppeard, NSW Health’s director of communicable diseases, confirmed they were investigating this.
“We have sent off samples to the reference laboratories to see if there is a change in the coding of the virus that is also making people less immune to it.” she said.
New South Wales
The current outbreak in NSW is the worst for five years with over 1300 cases recorded by NSW Health in 2017, already more than triple the 412 cases reported last year.
Children aged between 2 and 4 years old based in metropolitan Sydney are the worst affected, with Sydney Children’s Hospital reporting between 5 and 6 times more hospitalisations from the virus than in average years.
In QLD, it’s a similar story with over 1527 recorded cases so far in 2017, more than double the number of cases in previous years. Over 230 people have been hospitalized due to contracting the virus this year.
Since the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine in 2007, between 70% and 90% of Australian children are vaccinated at two and four months old.
The introduction of the vaccine appears to have been a success. Prior to the vaccine, rotavirus was responsible for around 10,000 hospitalisations and 115,000 doctors visits every year. This has reduced by 70% since the vaccine was introduced.
However, the vaccine doesn’t offer full protection and wears off after a few years. The suggested mutation of the virus may also explain the recent spike in numbers.
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