Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Vaccine against "infant killer"

Doctors in Macau, which is near Hong Kong, want the government to pay for the pneumococcal vaccine to protect against Streptococcus pneumoniae. The bacterium dubbed "infant killer" claims nearly 50 children per hour in Asia. The bacterium is already resistant to many antibiotics. Unfortunately the cost of the vaccine is out of reach for many in Asia.

Lui Kin Man, president of the Macau Paediatric Society, said childhood vaccination against the bacteria was important in southern China because treatment was especially difficult.

"In our region, like Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, bacterial drug resistance is very high, and pneumococcal (bacteria) is resistant to drugs like penicillin and erythromycin," Lui said in a telephone interview.

"Mortalities (caused by the pneumococcal bacteria) are higher in developing countries and mostly from pneumonia. Of all pneumonia deaths, 40 percent of them are caused by this bacteria," Lui said.

In the United States, prior to the development of a vaccine that protected against Streptococcus pneumoniae, the bacteria annually caused over 700 cases of meningitis, 13,000 cases of blood infections, over 5,000,000 ear infections, and 200 deaths in children under five from invasive disease.

In America, children are routinely offered this vaccine. Recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control suggest that for children, the vaccine is a series of shots given between the age of two to twenty-three months and is known as the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). Other children may also get this vaccine at a later age if they have certain medical conditions. The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) is recommended for adults sixty-five and older or who have other medical conditions. PPV is also given to children over the age of two with chronic illnesses.

With immunization, parents don't need to worry that there children will contract the illness or a bacterium that is resistant to many antibiotics. Yet, in this country many parents question the importance of vaccinations as doctors and parents a world away wish they had the opportunity to immunize.

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