Vaccine proves widely effective against meningitis

Over the past eight years a vaccine that guards against pneumococcal meningitis has slashed the number of new cases posted for children under the age of two. In a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, investigators determined that the number of new cases of meningitis, an inflammation around the brain, plunged 64 percent between 1999 and 2005.

With fewer babies spreading meningitis, the whole population benefited. Overall, the number of new cases plunged 30 percent, with the children's vaccine--Prevnar--extending herd protection for the entire population. Researchers reported that the number of new cases dropped from 1.13 cases per 100,000 to 0.79 over six years.

"When you immunize children, they are much less likely to carry pneumococcal strains covered by the vaccine in the back of the throat," explained Lee Harrison, M.D., senior author of the study and professor of medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "When vaccinated children don't carry these virulent strains, they don't end up transmitting them to other children, their parents and grandparents."

There is, though, a dark circle around the silver cloud. Scientists note that the types of bacteria that triggers meningitis are changing, raising questions over how long the vaccine can protect people. Prevnar is proven against seven strains of bacteria, but new drug-resistant strains are popping up, including some that can't be stopped by antibiotics. Developers are working now on a new vaccine that protects against 13 strains of bacteria.

- check out the report from USA Today
- read the press release