Background: Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants. To provide a base line for assessing the efficacy of rotavirus vaccines, we evaluated the protection that is conferred by natural rotavirus infection.
Methods: We monitored 200 Mexican infants from birth to two years of age by weekly home visits and stool collections. A physician assessed the severity of any episodes of diarrhea and collected additional stool specimens for testing by enzyme immunoassay and typing of strains. Serum collected during the first week of life and every four months thereafter was tested for antirotavirus IgA and IgG.
Results: A total of 316 rotavirus infections were detected on the basis of the fecal excretion of virus (56 percent) or a serologic response (77 percent), of which 52 percent were first and 48 percent repeated infections. Children with one, two, or three previous infections had progressively lower risks of both subsequent rotavirus infection (adjusted relative risk, 0.62, 0.40, and 0.34, respectively) and diarrhea (adjusted relative risk, 0.23, 0.17, and 0.08) than children who had no previous infections. No child had moderate-to-severe diarrhea after two infections, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic. Subsequent infections were significantly less severe than first infections (P=0.024), and second infections were more likely to be caused by another G type (P=0.054).
Conclusion: In infants, natural rotavirus infection confers protection against subsequent infection. This protection increases with each new infection and reduces the severity of the diarrhea.