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New Vaccines for Old Diseases

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Sept. 18, 2000 (Toronto) -- Ear infections in children, bladder infections in women, and wracking coughs among teens may soon be distant memories. New vaccines, and older vaccines adapted for teens and adults, soon will be available to fight all of these conditions, according to presentations here at an international conference of infectious disease specialists.

Urinary tract infections are hardly life threatening, but they add $4 billion to annual U.S. health care costs. A major cause of these infections is a strain of E. coli that has learned to travel upstream to the bladder and even to the kidneys. Now a new vaccine promises relief for most of the 10 million U.S. residents who each year develop these bacterial infections.

"The focus of our efforts in vaccine development is to take a portion of the [bacteria] ... and use it as a [vaccine]," says Scott Koenig, MD, PhD, of MedImmune Inc., based in Gaithersburg, Md.

The first clinical trial of the vaccine enrolled 48 women. Most of the women had a little pain at the site of injection, but none felt bad enough to drop out of the study.

"We saw very good antibody responses," Koenig says. So far, immune substances taken from the blood of vaccinated women was strong enough to prevent bladder-disease-causing bacteria from attaching to human cells, in a test tube.

Koenig says that larger clinical trials are scheduled for later this year. One trial will test the vaccine in 90 women who have had three or more recurrent urinary tract infections; another will enroll 300 women who have no history of infection or who only get infections once in a while.

Far earlier in development is a vaccine that targets the bug that causes a type of ear infection called otitis media, the single most common cause of visits to the pediatrician and a $3 billion to $5 billion annual health care headache in the U.S. In the developing world, this bacteria, called Haemophilus influenzae, is also a significant cause of death from pneumonia.

Stephen J. Barenkamp, MD, and colleagues at the St. Louis University School of Medicine found that children who have recently recovered from otitis media have high concentrations of antibodies to a couple of different proteins on the bacteria.

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