A federal health panel today withdrew its recommendation that infants be vaccinated against rotavirus, the leading cause of severe childhood diarrhea, because of a rare side effect from a vaccine that was licensed last year.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said it "no longer recommends immunization of infants" with the rotavirus vaccine because it causes an increased risk of intussusception, a type of bowel obstruction, in the first two weeks after vaccination.

The committee unanimously voted to withdraw its recommendation that the vaccine be given at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. "We felt that the risk of an adverse reaction to the vaccine, in this case intussusception, outweighed the potential benefit the parents would likely see in their individual child," said John Livengood, director of epidemiology and surveillance in the National Immunization Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Rotavirus sickens millions of children, mostly under age 3, every year. It causes at least 20 deaths annually and more than 50,000 hospitalizations from severe diarrhea and dehydration.

The CDC had recommended in July that health care providers and parents delay the use of the vaccine because at least 15 infants had developed intussusception, an intestinal obstruction that occurs when the bowel folds in on itself.

Livengood said 102 cases of intussusception have been reported among infants who were vaccinated, when only 12 or 13 cases would have been expected. He said a CDC survey found a "strong, significant" causal relationship between vaccination and the intestinal obstruction.

The CDC said healthy children who received the rotavirus vaccine before July are not at increased risk of intussusception.

Illness from rotavirus usually starts with fever, an upset stomach and vomiting, followed by diarrhea that lasts three to nine days. Most cases of rotavirus diarrhea occur between November and May, the CDC said. The virus is often transmitted between children by contaminated hands or objects.