Last Novemeber 12 was the World Pneumonia Day, which raises awareness about the world’s leading infectious killer of children under the age of five. Every year more than 800,000 die from pneumonia worldwide but the highest burden of disease is in low-to-middle income countries such as Laos. A new study has found severe pneumonia decreases by 35 per cent in children who receive a vaccine against a pneumonia-causing bacteria. The research, a collaborative effort between the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and the University of Melbourne along with colleagues in the Asia-Pacific region, shows pneumonia is the most common reason why children are admitted to hospital in Laos, with most requiring treatment with oxygen, especially young infants. Laos was the first country in South-East Asia to introduce the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13) into its national immunization program in 2013, which protects against the 13 most common types of pneumococcus. The findings were released this month at the World Congress of the World Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases in Manilla, The Philippines.
Scientists stated that many pneumonia-related deaths could be prevented by a vaccine against pneumococcal bacteria. But because showing the impact of the vaccine against pneumonia was challenging as surveillance systems weren’t in place, the team had to think of a new way to illustrate how the vaccine worked. Vaccinating children protects the whole community by reducing the spread of pneumococcus because little children who commonly carry pneumococcus in the back of their nose are mostly responsible for the spread of these bacteria. The team took pneumococcus samples from the noses of healthy children and children with pneumonia. While most children with pneumococcus in their nose remain free of symptoms, a small but important proportion of children will have bacteria that spread into the lungs or bloodstream, causing serious infection and possibly death. By discovering that the bacteria is commonly carried at the back of the nose (both in healthy children and children with pneumonia), the study highlights that it is likely a significant contributor to severe infections in Laos.
Researchers collaborated with the Laos National Immunization Program Ministry of Health, Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital-Wellcome Trust Research Unit, the University of Health Sciences and the World Health Organization. The World Congress of the World Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases provides specialists a world forum for sharing the latest knowledge and receiving updates on the treatment and prevention of pediatric infectious diseases. Professor Fiona Russell, professor, MCRI said the research was among the first to evaluate pneumococcal vaccines in Asia, as pneumococcus was often overlooked as a cause of pneumonia because it is challenging to detect. The study found one in five hospital admissions for children under five years of age in Laos is due to pneumonia. Professor Russell said among these children one third require oxygen treatment, since one of the main causes of death from pneumonia is a lack of oxygen in the blood. Supplementary oxygen is a life-saving therapy that is unfortunately not consistently available across hospitals in Laos.
Professor Russell commented: “Our team had developed a new method using data collected from a hospital in Laos, to demonstrate that the vaccine worked against the severest form of pneumonia. We are also testing this new method in Papua New Guinea and Mongolia and so far the results look very promising. We hope this method can be used by other similar countries to show the value of this important vaccine”.
- Edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.
Russell CJ, Simon TD, Neely MN. Lung. 2019 Oct 31.
Russell FM et al. Bull WHO 2019 Jun 1; 97(6):386-393.
Hester G et al. J Emerg Med. 2019 Sep; 57(3):314-321.