- Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe and fatal diarrhea in children under five
- Table 1. Global burden of rotavirus disease among children hospitalized for diarrhea (2010)
- Ninety-five percent of rotavirus deaths occur in GAVI-eligible, low-income countries in Africa and Asia
- Figure 1. Rates of rotavirus mortality <5 years of age, by country
- Figure 2. Countries with the most rotavirus diarrhea deaths, by number and percentage of global total
- Rotavirus can be a death sentence where access to treatment for severe rotavirus-related diarrhea is limited or unavailable
Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe and fatal diarrhea in children under five
Rotavirus is one of the deadliest diseases for children in the developing world and is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children. Rotavirus is a virus that causes gastroenteritis—an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. If left untreated, it can lead to severe dehydration and death. Children six months to two years of age are most vulnerable to infection. Rotavirus kills more than 450,000 children younger than five years of age each year and hospitalizes millions more.
- One of every 260 children born each year will die of rotavirus by their fifth birthday. That’s more than 1,200 children each day.
- Five percent of all deaths in children under five are due to rotavirus.
- More than one third of the 1.34 million diarrhea deaths in children under five years of age and 40 percent of the 9 million diarrhea-related hospitalizations worldwide are due to rotavirus disease.
Table 1. Global burden of rotavirus disease among children hospitalized for diarrhea (2010).
|WHO region||Number of countries||Median percentage of children positive for rotavirus|
Ninety-five percent of rotavirus deaths occur in GAVI-eligible, low-income countries in Africa and Asia
Rotavirus affects children around the world in rich and poor countries alike. Nearly every child is at risk of infection, regardless of where he/she lives, his/her hygiene practices, or access to safe drinking water or sanitation. While rotavirus deaths and hospitalizations vary by region and country, the vast majority (95 percent) of rotavirus deaths in young children are found in GAVI-eligible, low-income countries in Africa and Asia.
- Approximately 232,000 African children under five each year die from the deadly, dehydrating diarrhea caused by rotavirus infection every year, accounting for more than 50 percent of the global total. That’s more than 600 children each day.
- Approximately 188,000 Asian children under five each year from the Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions die from the deadly, dehydrating diarrhea caused by rotavirus infection every year accounting for more than 40 percent of the global total. That’s more than 500 children each day.
Read PATH’s rotavirus disease and vaccines in Asia fact sheet: English
Figure 1. Rates of rotavirus mortality <5 years of age, by country.
Source: Tate JE, Burton AH, Boschi‐Pinto C, et al. 2008 estimate of worldwide rotavirus‐associated mortality in children younger than 5 years before the introduction of universal rotavirus vaccination programmes: a systematic review and meta‐ analysis. The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 2012;12(2):136–141. Available online. Accessed on 31 August 2012.
Figure 2. Countries with the most rotavirus diarrhea deaths, by number and percentage of global total.
Source: Estimated rotavirus deaths for children under 5 years of age: 2008, 453 000 page. WHO website. Available online. Accessed 31 August 2012.
Rotavirus can be a death sentence where access to treatment for severe rotavirus-related diarrhea is limited or unavailable
Rotavirus is highly contagious and spreads easily from person-to-person through contaminated hands and objects, such as toys and surfaces. It can live on contaminated hands for hours and surfaces for days. Rotavirus cannot be treated with antibiotics or other drugs. Similar to other forms of diarrhea, mild rotavirus infections can be treated by providing fluids and salts (oral rehydration therapy). However, children with severe rotavirus diarrhea may die from dehydration unless they receive intravenous fluids. In developing countries, this type of urgent medical care is often inaccessible or unavailable, making rotavirus prevention through vaccination critical to saving children’s lives.
Vaccination offers the best hope for preventing severe rotavirus disease and the deadly dehydrating diarrhea that it causes. Improvements in water quality, hygiene, and sanitation can stop bacteria and parasites that cause other forms of diarrhea but do not adequately prevent the spread of rotavirus. Lifesaving rotavirus vaccines should be introduced as part of a comprehensive approach to control diarrheal disease, along with other interventions including oral rehydration therapy, breastfeeding, zinc treatment, and improvements in water and sanitation.
Read the rotavirus disease and vaccines FAQs.