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Questions & Answers about Intussusception and Rotavirus Vaccine

Most infants who get rotavirus vaccine have no problems. Infants are slightly more likely to be irritable, or to have mild, temporary diarrhea or vomiting after a dose of rotavirus vaccine.

There is also a small risk of intussusception from rotavirus vaccination, usually within a week after the first or second dose. This additional risk is estimated to range from about 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 100,000 US infants who get rotavirus vaccine.

What Is Intussusception?

Intussusception is a type of bowel blockage caused when the bowel folds into itself like a telescope. This condition is rare and is most likely to occur during the first year of life. Before rotavirus vaccine was used in the United States, each year about 1,900 infants developed intussusception before the age of 1 year. With prompt treatment, almost all infants who develop intussusception fully recover.

What Are Known Causes of Intussusception?

Most of the time, the cause is not known. Some cases may be caused by a bowel infection. Some cases may be caused by a polyp or tumor in the bowel—both of these are groups of cells growing in the bowel that are not normal. There is also a small risk of intussusception from rotavirus vaccination.

What Are the Signs of Intussusception in Infants?

For intussusception, look for signs of stomach pain along with severe crying. Early on, these episodes could last just a few minutes and come and go several times in an hour. Babies might pull their legs up to their chest. A baby might also vomit several times or have blood in the stool, or could appear weak or very irritable. These signs would usually happen during the first week after the first or second dose of rotavirus vaccine, but look for them any time after vaccination.

If you think it is intussusception, call a doctor right away. If you can’t reach your doctor, take your baby to a hospital. Tell them when your baby got the rotavirus vaccine.

How Is Intussusception Treated in the United States?

A radiologist (a specialized doctor in a hospital) usually can unfold the intussusception by using air or fluid to push the folded part of the bowel back into its normal position. In about a third of intussusception cases in infants, surgery is required to unfold the bowel. In a small percentage of infants, the blocked section of bowel must be removed (called resection).

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