Children are to be offered a vaccine aimed at protecting them from a bug that causes thousands of cases of diarrhoea in under-fives every year.
Health Minister Edwin Poots has announced the introduction of a new childhood vaccination programme to protect children against rotavirus — the top cause of gastroenteritis in children.
Health officials have urged parents to ensure their children receive the vaccination as it offers protections against the bug. One in five children who catch rotavirus requires medical attention and one in 10 ends up in hospital. Very young children have the highest risk of severe complications which can result in severe dehydration and death in a very small number of cases.
It is estimated that the vaccine will halve the number of vomiting and diarrhoea cases caused by rotavirus and there could be 70% fewer hospital stays as a result.
Children under four months will receive the vaccination as part of the existing childhood immunisation programme.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said: “Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhoea in young children and this vaccine will protect our children and reduce hospital admissions for serious rotavirus infection.
“Many people think of diarrhoea as something that all children get and that you have to put up with, but there is a way to protect children from this.”
The vaccine, Rotarix, is used to routinely vaccinate children in the US and other countries.
The programme will begin in Northern Ireland in July. Children need two doses, given at two and three months of age, and is given as a small amount of liquid into the mouth.
Minister Poots also announced that the current arrangements for protecting people against meningitis C will also be updated from the beginning of June.
A new teenage booster injection given in school will replace the booster currently given at four months old. Evidence shows that the four-month booster is no longer required.
The teenage booster vaccination will be offered during the 2013-14 school year.
Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and bowel and the two most common symptoms are diarrhoea and vomiting. It can have a number of possible causes, including a norovirus infection or food poisoning. However, rotavirus is the leading cause in children. A rotavirus is an infection of the stomach and bowel. It is spread when a child who is infected does not wash their hands properly after going to the toilet.