University of Calgary

Immunization in Calgary deals near-fatal blow to bacterium in kids

UToday HomeFebruary 20, 2013

A nurse at the Northwest Public Health Clinic in Ranchlands administers vaccines. Photo by Alberta Health ServicesA nurse at the Northwest Public Health Clinic in Ranchlands administers vaccines. Photo by Alberta Health ServicesThanks to routine childhood immunization, Calgary is among the first cities in the world to record the near eradication of some of the more serious forms of illness caused by a common bacterium.

Calgary researchers report seven strains of the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, which can cause serious infections known as Invasive Pneumococcal Disease (IPD), have been wiped out in children under the age of five and nearly eliminated in all other age groups.

“This is a major victory for childhood immunization programs,” says Dr. Otto Vanderkooi, a University of Calgary researcher who is also a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Alberta Children’s Hospital.

“This is an organism that continues to cause a million deaths around the world each year,” adds Vanderlooi, who is also the lead author of a paper published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal this past fall.

In its non-invasive form, Streptococcus pneumoniae can cause sinus or ear infections, leading to runny noses and earaches. When it invades an organ or the bloodstream, it can cause pneumonia (infection of the lungs), meningitis (infection of the protective membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord), septicemia (infection of the bloodstream), osteomyelitis (infection of the bone) and septic arthritis (infection of a joint).

IPD can require up to two weeks’ hospitalization to control and, in the most severe cases, can be fatal. In the developing world, IPD takes a particularly heavy toll.

In 2002, Alberta became the first province in Canada to introduce the 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7), also known as Prevnar, which targets the seven most common and serious subtypes of Streptococcus pneumoniae.

“Although we don’t have the specific research to confirm it, we would expect other areas in Alberta would also be experiencing decreases in the numbers of cases of Invasive Pneumococcal Disease, due to routine childhood immunization,” says Dr. Judy MacDonald, AHS Medical Officer of Health and a co-author of the paper.

The Calgary Area Streptococcus Pneumoniae Epidemiology Research (CASPER) group, established by Dr. James Kellner, head of pediatrics at the University of Calgary, has been studying IPD and other pneumococcal related infections since 1998 and is the longest continuous surveillance program of its kind in Canada.


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