Vaccine Breaks Cycle of Urinary Tract Infections in Women

From the WebMD Archives

April 30, 2000 (Atlanta) -- One day soon, women who suffer from painful recurring urinary tract infections may be able to swap their antibiotics for a vaccine. A new vaccine suppository applied directly to the vagina promises to reduce the number of times such women have the infections and have to endure the troubling side effects of antibiotic therapy to treat the infection. That's according to early results from a study reported here Saturday at an annual meeting of urologists.

After three weekly applications of the vaccine, it is used just once monthly. "We think this will be easy for women to use -- just a suppository every month," study author Walter J. Hopkins, PhD, tells WebMD.

Thousands of women each year suffer from these recurrent infections, which are infections of the urinary bladder. They're an uncomfortable and sometimes painful infection characterized by burning or pain when urinating, frequent urination, sudden and urgent need to urinate, or the sensation of pressure or pain in the lower back and abdomen. Sometimes women can also have low-grade fevers, strong-smelling urine, or bloody urine.

Previous attempts at developing a vaccine to prevent such infections have been a failure. Those vaccines, when administered by shot, had many side effects. This vaccine, since it's applied directly to the source of the problem, avoids these reactions, and is intended to provide protection right where it is most needed.

To date, some 100 women have received the vaccine in early studies, and none have had significant adverse side effects. Fewer than 5% of treated women experienced brief vaginal irritation or diarrhea. The vaccine targets bacteria that cause urinary tract infections only. It does not protect against other vaginal infections, such as yeast infections.

In a previous study, the vaginal vaccine prevented urinary tract infections just as well as preventive antibiotics. However, after three weekly applications, the vaccine protection appeared to wear off. The current, ongoing study seeks to extend that protection.

Hopkins and colleagues enrolled 36 women with a history of recurrent infections -- on average, six or seven infections per year. Some women received the vaccine, while others received a placebo.

More than 80% of the women who did not get the vaccine had a recurrent infection within six months. This happened in only half the women who got the vaccine. "We were able to string out the infection-free period for four to five months," Hopkins says. The ongoing study seeks to enroll up to 50 women.

S. Grant Mulholland, MD, chief of the urology department at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, tells WebMD that the vaccine, or a similar product, will be a welcome new tool in combating recurring urinary tract infections. He says that the topical vaccination approach represents the wave of the future. "What we are going to see over the next decade [are] new ways to treat infections without trying to directly kill them as we do now with antibiotics," he predicts.