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Pediatric Vaccine Prevents Pneumococcal Meningitis in Both Adults and Children

Results published in New England Journal of Medicine resolve questions about vaccine’s efficacy in preventing spread of the disease to adults

PITTSBURGH, January 14, 2009 — A standard pediatric vaccine used to prevent several common types of life-threatening infections also effectively reduced the rates of another disease, pneumococcal meningitis, in children and adults, according to a multi-center study led by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The study, published in the Jan. 15 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine and based on a detailed review of pneumococcal meningitis cases, also noted an increase in strains of pneumococcal meningitis not covered by the vaccine and those resistant to antibiotics.

An often deadly disease, pneumococcal meningitis is an infection in the brain and spinal cord membranes caused by the pneumococcus – a bacterium that also causes pneumonia and other serious infections. The highest rates of pneumococcal infections occur in very young children. There are approximately 2,700 cases of pneumococcal meningitis in the U.S. every year.

After reviewing 1,379 cases of pneumococcal meningitis from 1998 through 2005, study authors found rates of the disease decreased in children and adults after the introduction of pediatric pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) in 2000. PCV7 protects against seven of the most common pneumococcal types, which account for over 80 percent of pneumococcal disease in young children. PCV7 is not administered to adults. 

According to the study, incidence rates for pneumococcal meningitis in all age groups declined 30.1 percent from 1998-1999 to 2004-2005. After PCV7 was made available, the incidence of meningitis decreased by 64 percent in children and by 54 percent in older adults.

“When you immunize children, they are much less likely to carry pneumococcal strains covered by the vaccine in the back of the throat,” explained Lee Harrison, M.D., senior author of the study and professor of medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “When vaccinated children don’t carry these virulent strains, they don’t end up transmitting them to other children, their parents and grandparents.” Prior to the study, conflicting data existed on the vaccine’s effect on the incidence of meningitis in adults, he said.

The authors also observed that non-PCV7 strains increased by 60.5 percent from the 1998-1999 period to 2004-2005, and the percentage of strains that were not sensitive to penicillin, which initially declined, increased from 19.4 percent in 2003 to 30.1 percent in 2005.   

“PCV7 has been highly successful in  preventing pneumococcal meningitis, but it remains a very serious and deadly disease,” said Dr. Harrison.  “Of the patients in our study, 8 percent of children and 22 percent of adults died. These findings indicate the need to continue to explore new methods of prevention with a special emphasis on strains that are not covered by PCV7 and strains that are drug resistant. Next-generation vaccines are in development and patients and physicians need to avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics.”

In addition to Dr. Harrison, who conducted this study in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, co-authors of the study include first author Heather Hsu, M.P.H. and Kathleen Shutt, both at the University of Pittsburgh; Matthew Moore, M.D., M.P.H., Bernard Beall, Ph.D., and Cynthia Whitney, M.D., M.P.H., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Nancy Bennett, M.D., University of Rochester; Allen Craig, M.D., Tennessee Department of Health; Monica Farley, M.D., Emory University; James Jorgensen, Ph.D., University of Texas Health Sciences Center; Catherine Lexau, Ph.D., M.P.H., Minnesota Department of Health; Susan Petit, M.P.H., Connecticut Department of Health; Arthur Reingold, M.D., University of California Berkeley; William Schaffner, M.D., Vanderbilt University School of Medicine; and Ann Thomas, M.D., Oregon State Public Health Division. 

The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and conducted at eight Active Bacterial Core surveillance (ABCs) sites throughout the United States. ABCs is a component of the CDC-funded Emerging Infections Program network.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is one of the nation’s leading medical schools, renowned for its curriculum that emphasizes both the science and humanity of medicine and its remarkable growth in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant support, which has more than doubled since 1998. For fiscal year 2006, the University ranked sixth out of more than 3,000 entities receiving NIH support with respect to the research grants awarded to its faculty. As one of the university’s six Schools of the Health Sciences, the School of Medicine is the academic partner to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). Their combined mission is to train tomorrow’s health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding of the causes and treatments of disease and participate in the delivery of outstanding patient care.

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