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Better Meningitis Vaccine for Infants

New Vaccine Would Extend Infant Protection to Multiple Meningitis Strains
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Infant Meningitis Vaccine Safe

Jan. 8, 2008 -- A new meningitis vaccine protects infants against multiple strains of a meningitis bug, not just the single strain in the current infant vaccine.

The finding comes from a British/Canadian clinical trial that tested the new vaccine in 421 healthy infants.

Meningitis caused by Neisseria meningitidis bacteria -- or meningococcus -- is often deadly and frequently devastating. In the U.S., it strikes 1,400 to 2,800 people each year. Up to 14% of these people die; up to one in five survivors suffers brain damage, amputation, and/or hearing loss.

Infants younger than 1 year are the most frequent victims, but disease incidence peaks again during the teen years. There's now a vaccine that protects against four strains of meningococcal bacteria. But it doesn't work well in infants, so it's recommended for use only after age 2 years.

A new vaccine from Novartis protects against four strains of the N. meningitidis bug, and it works in infants, report University of Oxford researchers Matthew D. Snape, MBBS, FRACP, and colleagues.

A three-dose schedule of vaccination at ages 2, 3, and 4 months offers at least 92% protection against all four meningitis strains contained in the vaccine. A 2-, 4-, and 6-month schedule that fits better with the U.S. child vaccination schedule was also highly effective. For both schedules, a booster shot at 12 months appears to be needed for extended protection.

Unfortunately, the new vaccine does not protect against the B serotype of meningococcal bacteria, which causes about a third of U.S. cases. So far, medical science has not been able to come up with a vaccine against meningococcus serotype B.

Even so, the study represents a "major advance in the vaccine prevention of meningococcal disease," says University of Pittsburgh infectious disease specialist Lee H. Harrison, MD, in an editorial accompanying the Snape study.

"The outlook for comprehensive global prevention of this devastating disease has never been better," Harrison writes.

The Snape study, and the Harrison editorial, appear in the Jan. 9/16 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

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