Rotavirus-induced diarrhea is a common infection that mainly affects children between the ages of three months and two years. Most children will have had a rotavirus infection by the age of five, and in the United States there are around three million cases each year and 55,000 hospitalizations of under-fives for administration of intravenous fluids.
Deaths from rotavirus are relatively uncommon in the US and other Western countries, as in patients with a healthy immune system it is vanquished within a few days. But on a worldwide basis it is thought to result in the death of around 0.6 million children.
Despite its prevalence and the dangers it presents to undernourished populations, no large-scale preventative treatments or vaccines for rotavirus currently exist.
The Massey study, the results of which are published in the June issue of the Journal of Nutrition (135, 6:1470-74, 2005), stemmed from the presence of bioactive ingredients in some WPCs, which may have the ability to activate immune cells and prevent infection.
The researchers tube-fed a group of suckling mice with Fonterra Brands' proprietary WPC Imucare (WPC-IC) from the age of nine to 17 days. At the age of 11 days, they were infected with murine rotavirus.
A second, control group was fed the control protein bovine serum albumine in place of WPC-IC.
Severe diarrhea occurred in 63 percent of the control mice, but in only 36 percent of the WPC-IC-fed. What's more, the WPC-IP group experienced severe diarrhea for only two days, compared with four days for the control group.
The proportion of mice shedding high levels of the virus in feces was significantly lower in the WPC-IC group than in the control group on days 13, 16 and 17, and significantly higher on day 14.
"Prophylactic treatment with WPC-IC may reduce rotaviral disease by decreasing the prevalence of severe diarrhea and by decreasing the time period during which severe symptoms and high viral shedding occur," wrote the researchers.
However there is no indication that WPC can prevent the infection being contracted in the first place, since rotavirus-specific antibody levels in serum and gut fluid did not differ between the two groups.