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A mother's vaccine to protect baby too.

A mother's vaccine to protect baby too

Group B streptococcus (GBS) bacteria can sicken and kill newborns. Now researchers are testing a promising vaccine given to pregnant women in the hope that maternal antibodies passed on to the developing fetus will protect it from GBS infection during the first months of life outside the womb.

"This is the first time pregnant women have been immunized with a vaccine to prevent group B streptococcal infection," comments Richard A. Insel, a pediatrics professor at the University of Rochester (N.Y.). The vaccine was tested by Carol J. Baker from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and her colleagues, who describe their results in the Nov. 3 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE.

About 11,000 neonatal GBS cases are reported annually in the United States; up to 3,000 infants die from GBS-associated pneumonia, meningitis and other infections. Even infants who survive can be left with lifelong disabilities such as mental retardation and hearing loss. GBS also affects an estimated 48,000 new mothers each year, infecting the bloodstream or caesarean incisions after delivery.

Though the trauma of delivery makes these women vulnerable, most other adults with a fully functional immune system experience no trouble with the bacteria. Infants are at risk because they are born with an underdeveloped immune system and depend on the mother's antibodies for protection. But some pregnant women lack GBS antibodies, and others don't have enough to protect the developing fetus. Public health authorities have long speculated that a maternal vaccine would prevent illness in both mother and baby.

Baker and her colleagues tested that theory by giving a GBS vaccine to 40 pregnant women, 35 of whom had insufficient GBS antibodies. The vaccine increased antibody levels in 63 percent of the mothers. Of the 25 babies born to women who responded to the vaccine, 80 percent had protective antibody levels at 1 month of age and 64 percent had them at 3 months.

The researchers made the vaccine from the coat surrounding the bacteria. "There were no systemic reactions to it," says Dennis L. Kasper from Harvard Medical School in Boston, a coauthor who developed the vaccine.

The study is a pilot, Baker stresses. A larger trial is needed to measure the vaccine's effectiveness and its safety for both mother and fetus.
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Title Annotation:inoculation against group B streptococcus
Author:Facklemann, Kathy
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 5, 1988
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