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Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhoeal disease in infants and young children all over the world.

It is thought to cause about 125 million cases of diarrhoea and an estimated 600 000 deaths each year. It is highly infectious and is spread by the oral-faecal route.

Infants and young children who become infected with the virus suffer vomiting, fever and watery diarrhoea. Most cases are mild, but in severe cases, these symptoms will cause life-threatening dehydration if left untreated. Because infection is so common, most children will develop immunity to the virus within their first two to three years of life.

There are no appropriate drug treatments. Oral rehydration therapy helps to save the lives of infected children but does not prevent new infections. Therefore, a vaccine is needed. The first to be licensed was last year withdrawn from the market by its producer following large-scale surveillance in the United States because of a possible link with intussusception (a blockage of the intestine). Other vaccones against rotavirus are in development.

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