More than 100,000 stillbirths and baby deaths worldwide could be prevented by the development of a vaccine against an infection commonly carried by pregnant women, according to a groundbreaking report.
The impact of disease caused by group B streptococcus (GBS) has not been properly chronicled before and only in relatively recent years has anyone taken seriously its role in the deaths of babies in the womb as well as in the early days of life.
Worldwide, more than 21 million pregnant women carry the bacteria which used to be thought harmless, say researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Today it is recognised as a cause of septicaemia and meningitis in newborns, with potentially deadly effects, and also as a major cause of stillbirths, but vaccines against it are only now in development.
In wealthy countries, women thought to be at risk are given antibiotics in labour, but that does not prevent stillbirths and is not a practical solution for Africa and other developing countries where the infection rate is high. It could also contribute to antibiotic resistance, which is a global problem.
“Vaccines are the way to go,” said Joy Lawn, co-lead author of the papers and professor of maternal, reproductive and child health at the LSHTM. “They are on the way but it is going to be probably a five-year time horizon. The vaccine process needs to be accelerated. The World Health Organisation is already moving to make sure that when we get a vaccine it will be available for countries where the need is highest.”
In affluent countries, parent groups have called for more action against GBS, including universal testing to check whether pregnant women are carrying the bacteria.
Source : The Guardian