Dr Joanna Kirman leads a team at the Malaghan Institute investigating rotavirus. Rotavirus is a common but nasty disease that affects young children. The problem is that there are many different strains and a different vaccine is needed for each strain. Fortunately, a number of vaccines have been developed overseas, and the team has found that these vaccines match the strains found in New Zealand.
DR JOANNA KIRMAN
Rotavirus is a viral infection that causes gastroenteritis or basically vomiting and diarrhoea. Rotavirus is a very, very common infectious disease in New Zealand and throughout the world. Rotavirus in New Zealand causes hospitalisation of about a thousand children every year, and it also causes a lot of sick days for children and for their parents who often acquire the infection from their children as well. It’s just a very nasty infection.
The good thing is there are vaccines that have been developed in other countries to prevent rotavirus, but there are lots of different types of rotavirus, and the immune system sees those viral strains as being quite different from each other. One virus strain which might be wearing a red coat, and one is wearing a yellow coat, and your immune system is busy looking for the one in the red coat, and it isn’t seeing the one wearing the yellow coat. You’ve got to vaccinate against all those different strains to make sure the immune system will recognise all of the different strains and will prevent disease caused by all of them.
We have typed the different rotavirus strains that were found to see whether they had the same strains that the vaccines overseas have been designed to protect against. Also to see whether we had any unique strains in New Zealand. We found that the North and the South Island had quite different types of strains during the same year. That was quite surprising because we thought perhaps all of New Zealand would have the same strain during the same year. The good thing was that all of the strains that we had, wherever they were in New Zealand, seemed to be of the kind that could be protected by the currently available vaccines that had been designed overseas.
We now know that the vaccines that have been developed overseas are likely to prevent disease in New Zealand, and we hope that, in the coming years, these vaccines might be included on New Zealand’s vaccination schedule. And the good thing is there are two vaccines, and both of them are oral vaccines so they don’t involve getting a jab, which is always a good thing.
CDC Centres for Disease Control & Prevention
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Chris Zahniser, B.S.N., R.N., M.P.H. CDC Centres for Disease Control & Prevention