Streptococcus vaccine ‘could prevent over 100,000 baby deaths worldwide’

Experts call for more work to be done to develop vaccine for infection commonly carried by pregnant women, which can cause stillbirth and death

(Sarah Boseley/ The Guardian) — 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.

Eleven papers have been published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases and presented at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting in Baltimore, revealing the scale of infection and the damage it causes. They say there are 410,000 cases of disease every year and 147,000 stillbirths and infant deaths. One in five pregnant women carries the bacteria, which can cause meningitis and also life-threatening septicaemia – blood poisoning – in them and their baby. (…)

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