Vaccine reduces strep-related illness in black children

Study aimed to prove disparity could be eased

May 13, 2004|By Delthia Ricks | Delthia Ricks,NEWSDAY

A vaccine that prevents pneumonia, meningitis and ear infections is reducing those conditions among black children and closing a long-existing health care gap, public health experts reported yesterday.

Historically, the incidence of infections with the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae has been significantly higher in black children than in white. The microbe causes a range of illnesses from pneumonia to blood infections. Some infections can be lethal.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention targeted children between 6 weeks and 23 months of age in seven states, putting an emphasis on black children. The idea was to determine if a disparity could be alleviated and several infectious disorders reduced.

The analysis, begun in 1998, demonstrated that something as simple as immunization can greatly affect public health in reducing disparities in medical care. Doctors administered a vaccine called Prevnar, approved for general use in 2000.

Before Prevnar, infections among black children were 3.3 times higher than the rate among white youngsters. By the end of the first round of the study in 2002, the rate of infection among black children was only 1.6 times higher.

"This is good news," said Dr. Matthew Davis, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan. "The vaccine is reducing the overall burden of disease among children and adults."

Dr. Brendan Flannery, the CDC's lead investigator, said the rate of infection fell among adults because fewer children are passing along the disease. Nearly 16,000 children were vaccinated in the study.

"This is an example of what we call herd immunity ... when people who were not vaccinated benefit," Flannery said. "It's a result of having a lower chance of having someone transmit the bacteria to you."

Overall infection rates fell from 19 cases per 100,000 among whites to 12.1 cases per 100,000. Among black children, Flannery said, the reduction was drastic, falling from 54.9 cases per 100,000 to 26.5.

A similar vaccine, available for decades and recommended at age 65, has not had as profound an impact on public health, Flannery said. However, Prevnar is preventing "what we believe are the projected number of cases in the United States," especially among people ages 18 to 34 who have frequent contact with children, he said.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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