Vaccine may protect babies from lethal infection

Common bacteria that live harmlessly in the gastrointestinal tract and vagina of 25 percent of women can become lethal if a newborn gets exposed to them during birth.

Researchers are studying a vaccine that may one day eliminate that risk.

"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," says Dr. Daron Ferris, family medicine physician at the Medical College of Georgia and a principal investigator on a National Institutes of Health study to explore that potential.

MCG as well as the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, Inc., are enrolling a total of 600 healthy, non-pregnant women in the study.

Half the participants will get the new vaccine developed at Harvard University and the rest will receive a standard tetanus toxoid vaccine.

MCG's participation in the study is funded by an $800,000 NIH grant. Study sites include the Augusta campus as well as the University of Georgia's University Health Center in Athens and Georgia Southern University's clinics in Statesboro.

The group B strep vaccine is being compared with tetanus toxoid vaccine because the tetanus vaccine, long shown to be effective, is used as the delivery mechanism for group B vaccine, Dr. Ferris says. "It's piggy-backed onto the tetanus toxoid vaccine so the body makes antibodies to the tetanus and group B strep," he says.

Group B strep is the most common infectious cause of death in newborns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Problems typically surface within the first week of life when the immune system is immature and least able to fight off infection. Results may include overwhelming infection called septicemia, meningitis, pneumonia and long-term damage such as hearing loss, impaired vision and developmental problems.

The bacteria come and go in most wome

Contact: Toni Baker
Medical College of Georgia

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