Babies’ bloodstream infection paralyses by new pill

A drug used to treat common childhood infections has shown some protection against a contagious bacterial brain infection that causes seizures in babies, British researchers say.

Pfizer’s Prevnar 13, a pneumococcal vaccine, reduced the risk of the infection by 61% for babies and toddlers aged 12 to 18 months when given three or four doses, according to a study that followed children in Britain and Scotland for two years.

Occasional side effects included nausea, vomiting, muscle pains and fatigue, but infections were mild and usually resolved within 24 hours. There were no serious side effects among more than 21,000 people.

Mayank Vahia, a doctor at Royal Preston hospital who led the research, said: “These results, combined with studies across Europe, confirm the efficacy of Prevnar 13, as well as demonstrating the safety of a particularly effective pediatric pneumococcal vaccine.”

The researchers, whose work was published in the Lancet medical journal, used a widely used sample of people to assess the impact of the vaccine. The participants were randomly selected in March and May 2013 to receive one dose of Prevnar 13 before their first birthday or just two doses, spaced one week apart.

The children were then tracked for two years as their health improved or worsened.

“The majority of the study population was well behaved and would not require a course of antibiotics or inpatient care. The evidence thus seems to suggest that there is sufficient evidence of benefit of Prevnar 13 from on-going routine immunisation,” Vahia said.

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Pneumococcal disease is the most common cause of hospitalisation for children under five, with many more younger children hospitalised than adults. It is also responsible for around 13,000 hospital admissions in Britain every year.

There is no approved vaccine against the “three-legged” group of infections responsible for up to 95% of infant pneumococcal infections, called “occasional invasive infections”. The Invasive Enterococcus range includes Omicron and Neisseria meningitidis, which cause the type of meningitis that killed Jade Goody, the former reality TV star who was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2009 and died the following year.

In April, the medical journal Lancet reported that around half of those infected with meningitis B showed no response to a vaccine and that in about a quarter of cases the effectiveness was low, suggesting that the vaccine may have limited effectiveness against the type that causes the disease.

Commenting on the new study, Richard Harvey, chief scientific officer at Cimzia, a company that manufactures meningitis B vaccines, said: “The Prevnar 13 results are consistent with a strategy that has been effective in different settings: provide vaccine to babies in a routine way, and to the adults at risk by combining it with a third disease of disease which often strikes in more severe forms of infection.”

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