WHO Urges Vaccine Against Bacteria Killing 150,000 Babies Each Year

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The World Health Organization has urged a vaccine against group B streptococcal infections. (a file)

Geneva:

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The World Health Organization on Wednesday called for the urgent development of a vaccine against a bacterial infection responsible for nearly 150,000 stillbirths and infant deaths each year.

A new report from the United Nations Health Agency and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine finds that the impact of group B streptococcal infection (GBS), which is estimated to live without damage in the intestines for up to a third of all adults, is a much greater cause of premature birth and disability than it is. previously thought.

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The report confirmed a devastating earlier finding from 2017 that bacteria cause nearly 100,000 newborn deaths and nearly 50,000 stillbirths each year, although it noted large data gaps that the true numbers may be higher.

For the first time it determined the effect on premature births, finding that GBS is behind more than half a million premature births each year, leading to significant long-term disability.

In light of these staggering numbers, the report’s authors lamented that no further progress was made toward developing a vaccine.

“This new research shows that group B streptococcus bacteria are a major and underappreciated threat to the survival and well-being of newborns, with devastating effects for many families globally,” Philip Lambach of the World Health Organization’s Department of Immunization said in a statement.

“WHO joins its partners in calling for the urgent development of a maternal GBS vaccine, which will have profound benefits in countries around the world.”

Professor Joy Lun, who chairs the LSHTM Center for Mothers, Adolescents, Reproductive Health and Children, agreed.

“Maternal vaccination could save hundreds of thousands of children’s lives in the coming years,” she said, denouncing the lack of progress since the idea of ​​developing a strike against GBS was first floated three decades ago.

On average, 15 percent of pregnant women worldwide, or approximately 20 million annually, carry GBS bacteria in the vagina.

But although most of these cases don’t show any symptoms, an infected pregnant woman can pass GBS to her fetus through the amniotic fluid, or during delivery as the infant passes through the vaginal canal.

Babies and fetuses are especially at risk because their immune systems are not strong enough to fight off the proliferating bacteria.

If GBS is not treated, it can lead to meningitis and septicemia, which can be fatal. Surviving children may develop cerebral palsy or permanent vision and hearing problems.

Wednesday’s report showed that bacteria leave about 40,000 infants each year with neurological disabilities.

Currently, women with GBS are given antibiotics during labor to reduce the chance of passing it on to their babies.

But this approach poses problems in places where it is difficult to access screening and administration of antibiotics during labour.

The study showed that the highest rates of maternal GBS are found in sub-Saharan Africa – which alone accounts for about half of the global burden – and East and Southeast Asia.

She suggested that the GBS vaccine that can be given to pregnant women during routine pregnancy checks and has reached more than 70 percent of pregnant women could avert 50,000 infant and fetal deaths each year.

(This story has not been edited by the NDTV crew and is automatically generated from a shared feed.)

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