Vaccine Could Save Newborns

If a pregnant mother is found with a dangerous microbe before labor, usually a doctor will administer an antibiotic to kill the dangerous organism called GBS, or group b streptococcus. Trouble is, many of these bugs have become resistant to antibiotics and can have a deadly effect on newborns. Now there's hope on the horizon.

This is where new vaccines are born. In this case, it's a vaccine to protect newborns. Sharon Hillier, Ph.D., is trying to stamp out the common but deadly bug GBS. If the bug is transmitted from mom to baby during labor, it can be dangerous.

"Sometimes, the organism can invade the baby and cause an infection of the blood or brain, and this infection can be fatal," Dr. Hillier, who is professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, tells Ivanhoe.

Dr. Hillier is testing a single injection of a new vaccine in women to see if it can stop GBS from invading the reproductive tract. The vaccine is active against the most common form of GBS. About 3,000 to 5,000 babies in the United States are infected with GBS each year. Perhaps because fatal cases of GBS are rare, manufacturers in the United States have been slow to show interest in a vaccine.

"Because it is pretty rare, most think it is not a big deal, but if it is your baby, and you've done everything right, it is an absolute tragedy," Dr. Hillier says.

Lynn Reid knows that firsthand. When she gave birth to Jason, antibiotics failed, and she transmitted GBS to her baby. He nearly died and still has health problems. "If I had been vaccinated for group B strep, I wouldn't have gotten it, and none of this would have happened," she says, and she hopes the vaccine will protect future mothers from going through what she did.

Women who carry GBS are not given oral antibiotics before labor because antibiotic treatment at that time does not prevent GBS disease in newborns. About half of pregnant women carry the bug. For more information on GBS, log onto http://www.cdc.gov/groupbstrep


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