Intussusception, a potentially lethal condition with poorly understood etiology, is the most common cause of acute intestinal obstruction in children younger than 5 years old. In some cases, the condition has been associated with administration of the first licensed rotavirus vaccine, the reassortant rhesus-human tetravalent rotavirus vaccine (RRV-TV; RotaShield®). No such association has to date been reported from large phase III safety trials with new rotavirus vaccines. As 2 new, live-attenuated oral rotavirus vaccines are currently under review for approval by the European Union regulatory authorities, a review of the clinical, etiologic and epidemiologic aspects of intussusception in Europe is urgently needed.
We conducted a review of Medline literature, published from 1995 onwards on intussusception in the World Health Organization’s European Region. The results are compared with data from previous reviews and other regions.
The classic triad of intussusception symptoms (abdominal pain, abdominal mass, bloody stools) was present in 29–33% of patients according to the medical literature reviewed. Conservative treatment (barium, air or saline enema) was the rule (81% of cases), and few complications were observed during treatment. Treatment outcome was generally favorable, with recurrence occurring in ∼1 in 10 patients, and only 1 death reported. Structural lead points were seen in 3% of patients; no other reliable data on the etiology of intussusception were found. The incidence of acute intussusception in young children in Europe, according to 6 heterogeneous hospital-based studies, ranged from 0.66 to 2.24 per 1000 children in inpatient departments and from 0.75 to 1.00 per 1000 children in emergency departments. Peak incidences were found in children 3–9 months of age.
There are still gaps in our knowledge of intussusception with respect to its etiology and especially by which mechanisms RRV-TV might have caused it to occur. Data from regions outside Europe showed that rotavirus infection and disease are not associated with intussusception. As new rotavirus vaccines become available for use in Europe, postlicensure surveillance for intussusception is indicated and may be instrumental in further understanding the epidemiology of this condition and in further assessing the safety of future vaccines.