Scientists at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) have developed and tested the first vaccine capable of protecting children from ages 2 to 5 against typhoid fever. Results of the study, conducted in Vietnam, appear in the April 26 New England Journal of Medicine. The effectiveness of the vaccine -- 91.5 percent -- is the highest reported for any typhoid vaccine.
Untreated, typhoid fever is a debilitating and life-threatening illness caused by the bacteria Salmonella typhi. Vaccine development for typhoid fever has been difficult because S. typhi inhabits and causes illness only in human beings -- there are no animal models for the disease. Typhoid fever is spread by fecal contamination of drinking water or food, or by person-to-person contact. The disease is common in developing countries lacking adequate sewage and sanitation facilities. Symptoms include fever, stomach pains, weight loss, loss of appetite, delirium, severe diarrhea (in children), and constipation (in adults).
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 16 million people worldwide develop typhoid each year, and 600,000 die from it. Roughly 400 cases of typhoid fever occur in the U.S. each year, about 70 percent of which are acquired by Americans traveling abroad.
The NICHD researchers conducted the study in the Dong Thap province of the Mekong Delta, a rural area that lacks a public sewage system and therefore has a high incidence of typhoid fever -- roughly 413 cases for every 100,000 children under age 15. More than 90 percent of the typhoid strains present in the area are resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the disease.
In developing the vaccine, the NICHD researchers used an approach they had earlier pioneered. The approach involves chemically linking a polysaccharide from the disease-causing bacteria with a protein molecule. Ordinarily, the polysaccharide would slip past the defenses of a child's immature immune system, but adding the protein to the polysaccharide allows the immune system to produce antibodies that inactivate the bacteria.
Antibodies are immune system proteins that recognize a particular substance. Together with another protein called complement, antibodies begin the first steps in the complex sequences of events by which the immune system destroys disease-causing organisms.
In all, 11,091 Vietnamese children ranging from age 2 to age 5 took part in the study. The children received two injections, six weeks apart. Half received the vaccine, and the other half, a placebo. Over the next two years, their physicians observed both groups. Those who developed typhoid fever received the standard treatment of antibiotic therapy for the disease.
S. typhi was isolated from only four children who had received both injections of the vaccine. The placebo group had 47 cases, for an effectiveness rate of 91.5 percent. By comparison, typhoid vaccines currently on the market have a 70% effectiveness rate and do not protect children under age 5 against the disease. Fewer than 2% of children experienced any side effects, all of which were mild and limited to swelling at the injection site or to mild fever that resolved within 48 hours.
The study authors next plan to test the vaccine in children under 2 to see if it can be administered at the same time as the routine vaccination for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. According to the authors, because of the high levels of protective antibodies brought about in young children by the vaccine, it would probably be at least 90% effective in individuals above 5 years of age, including military personnel and travelers to areas with high rates of typhoid fever
COPYRIGHT 2001 Nelson Publishing
COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group