Rotavirus & Chickenpox – Taken Too Lightly

by Aida

Being a parent is not easy, the day-to-day schedule and provision of care for the family could be quite overwhelming. While parents may try their very best, they may miss things not because they forget, but they just didn’t know it was important. Two good examples would be the rotavirus and chickenpox vaccines.

According to Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail, rotavirus and chickenpox vaccinations are often missed by parents. “Parents don’t even think about these vaccines because they are not listed in the National Immunisation Programme (NIP). However, both vaccines actually play a vital role in keeping children safe and healthy.”

Could you be taking rotavirus and chickenpox too lightly?

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What is rotavirus?

Datuk Zulkifli explains: “Rotavirus is very contagious[1]. It’s the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in children aged under 5 years worldwide[2]. Each year, rotavirus kills around 215,000 children globally and accounts for up to 50% of hospital admissions for diarrhoea[3],[4].”

He stresses that rotavirus infection can be very dangerous: “An infected child will present symptoms such as fever, vomiting and watery diarrhoea1. The rapid loss of fluid can lead to dehydration. If left untreated, death may occur. Infants are most at risk of becoming dehydrated due to their low body weight[5].”

“The first infection is most severe and does not lead to permanent immunity. Reinfection can occur at any age, but the subsequent infections will usually be less severe[6],” he says.

What is chickenpox?

Like rotavirus, chickenpox is also a viral disease and it is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Datuk Zulkifli remarks: “Many parents think that chickenpox is not a big deal besides causing a few spots. However, they are not aware that chickenpox can cause complications or deaths, even in healthy children.

“Annually, there are around 4.2 million cases of severe complications leading to hospitalisation and 4,200 related deaths worldwide[7]. Complications include brain inflammation, bacterial infection of the skin, bloodstream infection and lung infection[8]. Scarring may also occur, especially in older children[9].”

He continues: “Being highly contagious, chickenpox spreads easily among children, especially in nurseries and pre-schools[10]. A natural infection usually provides lifelong immunity[10], but parents won’t be able to know in advance how severe the symptoms will be in their children, so it’s really not worth taking the risk.”

Prevention through a series of vaccines

 Datuk Zulkifli concludes: “It’s important to take preventive measures to protect children against these two diseases, and one of the ways is through vaccination.”

“I would tell parents not to be intimidated by the two vaccines. Think of both vaccinations as a series, that one leads to the next, since it’s recommended for children to receive the rotavirus vaccine as early as possible after 6 weeks of age, and then the chickenpox vaccine starting from 12 months old[11],[12].”

Currently in Malaysia, rotavirus and chickenpox vaccines are only available in private clinics. Click here to find your nearest clinic and talk to a paediatrician about rotavirus and chickenpox prevention for your child.

Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail is a consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist. He is currently the Immunise4Life Technical Committee Chairman and Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Pediatric Association. Datuk Zulkifli was also a past president of the Malaysian Paediatric Association. He previously served as the Head of Paediatrics in a university hospital. He has more than 35 publications in peer-reviewed international and local journals. In 2012, he was given the Outstanding Asian Paediatrician Award by the Asia Pacific Paediatric Association. Recently in 2019, Datuk Zulkifli was awarded the Vaccine Hero Award by Ministry of Health Malaysia.

MY-VVX-00013 06/19

[1]Mayo Clinic. 2019. Rotavirus. (Accessed on March 15, 2019)
[2]WHO. 2013. WHO Position Paper. Retrieved from (Accessed on March 15, 2019)
[3]WHO. 2018. Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. Retrieved from (Accessed on March 15, 2019)
[4]Fischer, T. K., Bresee, J. S., & Glass, R. I. Rotavirus vaccines and the prevention of hospital-acquired diarrhea in children. Vaccine. 2004; 22S: S49-S54.
[5]NFID. n.d. Frequently Asked Questions About Rotavirus. (Accessed on March 11, 2019)
[6]CDC. 2018. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. Retrieved from (Accessed on March 15, 2019)
[7]WHO. 2014. Varicella and Herpes Zoster Vaccines: WHO Position Paper. Retrieved from (Accessed on 18 Apr 2019)
[8]CDC. 2018. Chickenpox Complications. Retrieved from (Accessed on 18 Apr 2019).
[9]Mayo Clinic. n.d. Chickenpox Diagnosis and Treatment. Retrieved from (Accessed on 18 Apr 2019).
[10]Facts about chickenpox. Paediatrics & child health. 2005; 10(7): 413-4.
[11]WHO. n.d. Rotavirus. Retrieved from (Accessed on April 29, 2019)
[12]WHO. n.d. Varicella. Retrieved from (Accessed on April 29, 2019)

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