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ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Many mothers with young children are unfamiliar with rotavirus, according to a new nationwide survey conducted by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB) to raise awareness about this unpredictable, highly contagious and potentially serious virus. Even though nearly all children are infected with rotavirus by the time they reach kindergarten, only about one in five mothers surveyed said that they are familiar with the virus, and more than two-thirds responded that they have heard little or nothing about it.
HMHB is teaming up with father and son renowned pediatricians and authors Drs. Bill and Jim Sears, with support from Merck & Co. Inc., to launch the new "Are You Rotavirus-Ready?" campaign to provide parents with information about rotavirus, including recognizing symptoms and the signs of dehydration. Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe dehydrating diarrhea in infants and young children and infects nearly all children by the age of 3.
"Rotavirus is highly contagious and children can become infected at any time of year," said Jim Sears, MD, pediatrician and co-author of "The Baby Book." "The virus is typically transmitted from person to person, through fecal-oral contact with contaminated hands and objects, so it is important for parents to pay close attention to their children all year long, but especially during the fall through the spring when cases peak in the United States."
According to the survey of 600 mothers with children under age 3 conducted by HMHB, more than 70 percent of respondents said that they have heard little or nothing about rotavirus, and almost half (46 percent) said that they are not at all familiar with rotavirus. Of the respondents who said they are familiar with the virus (21 percent), nearly 60 percent did not know or think that it is the most common cause of diarrhea in young children, and almost half (49 percent) did not know or think that nearly all children will become infected with the virus by the time they enter kindergarten.
A majority of respondents, however, rated the potential symptoms of rotavirus as some of the most serious that could affect their child. Ninety-five percent of moms surveyed think that severe diarrhea is a serious or very serious symptom and more than nine out of 10 believe forceful vomiting with increased frequency is also a serious or very serious symptom.
"Given that rotavirus is so common and potentially serious, it is surprising that so few parents are aware of it," said Judy Meehan, executive director of HMHB. "Since there is no way to predict whether a child will have a mild or severe case, we want to help parents learn about rotavirus and its symptoms so they are prepared and know when to call their doctor."
Symptoms of rotavirus vary but typically include fever, upset stomach, and vomiting, in conjunction with watery diarrhea. Children with rotavirus can have multiple episodes of diarrhea per day, and can last for three to nine days. Diarrhea, when combined with frequent vomiting, can lead to dehydration, or rarely, even death. Each year in the United States, rotavirus is responsible for an estimated:
-- 70,000 hospitalizations
-- 160,000 emergency room visits among children younger than five an average of more than 3,000 visits per week
-- 500,000 visits to doctor's offices
-- 100 deaths per year among children younger than five -- an average of nearly two deaths per week.
"For more than 30 years I've seen, and continue to see, cases of rotavirus -- both mild and severe -- that have affected children and their parents," said Sears."We know that nearly all children will get rotavirus and some of them will have symptoms that can quickly lead to severe dehydration. Through this campaign, we hope to educate parents about rotavirus and the risks of dehydration so they can identify the symptoms and be aware of the potential seriousness of the disease."
There are many different rotavirus strains and the prevalence of these strains varies by geography. While children can get rotavirus at any time of year, in the United States cases begin to peak in the fall. The number of rotavirus infections generally increases in the Southwest in November through January and spreads across the country in a wave, with infections typically peaking in the Northeast through the spring.
Source: National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB)