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Researchers have shown that a drug can help combat rotavirus infection, the main cause of diarrhoea in children and a major cause of death in the developing world.

Their results published online yesterday (13 June) in The Lancet show that a three-day course of nitazoxanide greatly shortened the duration of severe rotavirus diarrhoea in children.

Oral rehydration has so far been the only way of treating the infection, which can cause vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, dehydration and watery diarrhoea.

Two new rotavirus vaccines have been licensed in some countries but will not be widely available for another 2-3 years (see Double vaccine victory over rotavirus).

Jean-François Rossignol of the Romark Institute for Medical Research, United States, and colleagues studied 50 children admitted to the Cairo University Children's Hospital in Egypt with severe rotavirus diarrhoea.

All the children were given oral rehydration and either nitazoxanide — already an approved diarrhoea treatment in the United States and widely available in Latin America and India — or a placebo, twice a day for three days.

The team found that those on nitazoxanide recovered after an average of 31 hours — less than half the 75 hours it took the placebo group to recover. None of the children taking the new drug had any major side effects.

"The results reported here are encouraging and might lead us to think about new approaches to managing rotavirus disease in children," say the researchers.

The journal also published yesterday a review of developments in rotavirus vaccine research.

Link to full paper in Lancet*

Reference: The Lancet doi 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68852-1 (2006)

Link to review article in The Lancet*

Reference: The Lancet doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68815-6 (2006)

*Free registration is required to view this article.

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