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Heterogeneous susceptibility to rotavirus infection and gastroenteritis in two birth cohort studies: parameter estimation and epidemiological implications

By Joseph A Lewnard, Benjamin A Lopman, Umesh D Parashar, Aisleen Bennett, Naor Bar-Zeev, Nigel Cunliffe, Prasanna Samuel, M Lourdes Guerrero, Guillermo Ruiz-Palacios, Gagandeep Kang, Virginia E. Pitzer

Posted 08 Jan 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/242172 (published DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007014)

Variation in susceptibility is a known contributor to bias in studies estimating immune protection acquired from vaccination or natural infection. However, difficulty measuring this heterogeneity hinders assessment of its influence on estimates. Cohort studies, randomized trials, and post-licensure studies have reported reduced natural and vaccine-derived protection against rotavirus gastroenteritis in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). We sought to understand differences in susceptibility among children enrolled in two birth-cohort studies of rotavirus in LMICs, and to explore the implications for estimation of immune protection. We re-analyzed data from studies conducted in Mexico City, Mexico and Vellore, India. Cumulatively, 573 unvaccinated children experienced 1418 rotavirus infections and 371 episodes of rotavirus gastroenteritis (RVGE) over 17,636 child-months. We developed a model characterizing susceptibility to rotavirus infection and RVGE among children, accounting for aspects of the natural history of rotavirus and differences in transmission rates between settings, and tested whether model-generated susceptibility measurements were associated with demographic and anthropometric factors. We identified greater variation in susceptibility to rotavirus infection and RVGE in Vellore than in Mexico City. In both cohorts, susceptibility to rotavirus infection and RVGE were associated with male sex, lower birth weight, lower maternal education, and having fewer siblings; within Vellore, susceptibility was also associated with lower socioeconomic status. Children who were more susceptible to rotavirus also experienced higher rates of diarrhea due to other causes. Simulations suggest that discrepant estimates of naturally-acquired immunity against RVGE can be attributed, in part, to between-setting differences in transmission intensity and susceptibility of children. We found that more children in Vellore than in Mexico City belong to a high-risk group for rotavirus infection and RVGE, and demonstrate that bias owing to differences in rotavirus transmission intensity and population susceptibility may hinder comparison of estimated immune protection against RVGE.

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