Vaccine Might Shield Newborns from Infection

Study will examine whether vaginal bacteria can be suppressed during childbirth

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THURSDAY, Sept. 29, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers are conducting a study to determine if a new vaccine can protect newborn babies from potentially lethal infection.

The infection is caused by common bacteria called group B strep that live harmlessly in the gastrointestinal tract and vagina of 25 percent of women. Exposure to these bacteria during birth can trigger potentially lethal infections in newborns, however.

"If we could give a vaccine to prevent women from harboring group B streptococcus in the vagina, then babies are not going to get it," Dr. Daron Ferris, a family medicine physician at the Medical College of Georgia and principal investigator of the U.S. National Institutes of Health study, explained in a prepared statement.

The 18-month study of 600 healthy, non-pregnant women will compare the effectiveness of the vaccine -- which was developed at Harvard University -- with a standard tetanus toxoid vaccine in controlling group B infections in the study participants.

Group B strep is the most common infectious cause of death in newborn babies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infection-related problems typically occur in the first week of life when a baby's immune system is immature and unable to fight off infection. The bacteria can cause septicemia, meningitis, pneumonia and long-term hearing and vision damage in infants, as well as developmental problems.

More information

The U.S. National Center for Infectious Diseases has more about group B strep.

SOURCE: Medical College of Georgia, news release, Sept. 20, 2005

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