A sickly newborn in a maternity ward of University Hospital in Honduras. A new vaccine may soon help prevent a major infection, GBS. Picture: AP
A sickly newborn in a maternity ward of University Hospital in Honduras. A new vaccine may soon help prevent a major infection, GBS. Picture: AP

Vaccine to help prevent stillbirths

By Yolisa Tswanya Time of article published Nov 8, 2017

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Cape Town - Twelve percent of stillborn deaths in South Africa can be linked to mothers who carry Group B Streptococcus (GBS), but that may all change over the next few years.

Scientists from Wits Medical research Council Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit have contributed to the first comprehensive study of GBS; with the Pneumonia Team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Centre for Maternal, Reproductive and Child Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Professor of Vaccinology Shabir Madhi,director of the unit and executive director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, contributed to the study.

“This research is especially important for South Africa, where the highest incidence of invasive GBS in young infants globally has been reported for the past 20 years," he said.

“Furthermore, we have shown recently that at least 1250 South African women will have a stillbirth due to GBS each year.”

The GBS burden of disease analysis shows for the first time that a maternal GBS vaccine, which was 80% effective and reached 90% of women, could potentially prevent 231 000 infant and maternal GBS cases.

Dr Clare Cutland, who worked with Madhi, said currently there was no vaccine on the market and the one that was being worked on could be available in the next five to 10 years.

“In key countries women are screened and if mom is carrying, she will get antibiotics during labour in high-income countries.”

Cutland said the vaccine was in the clinical trial phase. “It will be developed and given to a pregnant mother and she will develop antibodies, and it will then be passed into the placenta and those antibodies will last about two months and protect the newborn as well.”

Joy Lawn, Series co-lead and Professor of Maternal, Reproductive and Child Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “Antibiotics currently prevent an estimated 29000 cases of early-onset GBS a year (but) giving antibiotics to 21.7 million women may contribute to antimicrobial resistance - a major global health crisis.”

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Cape Argus

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