Meningitis Trust Advocates Universal Vaccination Against Pneumococcal Disease Across Europe

GIARDINI NAXOS, Italy -- The Meningitis Trust today announced its support for the vaccination of all infants and young children to help protect against serious childhood diseases caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, including meningitis. Praising recent broad recommendations for the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine by health authorities in Austria and France, the Meningitis Trust strongly encourages other European countries to make the same commitment to protecting children's health against this serious pathogen.

"While pneumococcal disease is generally not very well known, it is a significant health threat to infants and young children throughout Europe. The recent recommendations in Austria and France demonstrate a strong pledge to reducing pneumococcal disease burden and protecting children," said Philip Kirby, chief executive of the Meningitis Trust. "The Meningitis Trust applauds the recommendations made by Austria and France, and hopes that other European countries will recognize that all children are at risk for pneumococcal disease and consider similar recommendations."

Invasive pneumococcal disease, which may affect as many as 160 per 100,000 children less than two years of age in industrialized nations, can cause pneumococcal meningitis, bloodstream infections and bacteremic pneumonia. Children with pneumococcal disease may experience fever, chills, headache, vomiting, stiff neck, shortness of breath or hearing impairment. Since pneumococcal disease symptoms are similar to those of other childhood illnesses and the disease can progress very rapidly, there may be little time for treatment before complications occur. A recent survey of 500 parents in France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom revealed that once parents were read a description of pneumococcal disease, more than 89 percent of respondents across all countries stated that they would vaccinate their child against pneumococcal disease.

"It is the mission of the Meningitis Trust to help raise awareness of the different causes of meningitis and methods of prevention in order to help protect children around the world," said Kirby. "Successful vaccination programmes for Hib and meningococcal C disease have led to a significant reduction in the disease burden in the UK. Prevention through vaccination may be the best method of protection against pneumococcal disease."

The Meningitis Trust has developed a range of information and education resources, including factsheets, on all forms of meningitis for the general public and health professions. The Meningitis Trust is working toward a world free from meningitis and where those affected by the disease receive quality care and support. It is an international charity with a strong community focus. In addition to a 24-hour Helpline staffed by specially trained nurses, the Trust provides counseling, financial grants, a home visiting service and a network of community groups. Its extensive range of education programmes are specially tailored for health professionals, and these include a CD-rom, slide presentation packs and a dedicated website at http://www.inmedonline.com/. The Trust's campaigning work reaches all age groups, as raising awareness about meningitis is the only way to protect communities in the absence of effective vaccines for all causes of meningitis. Funding medical research into life saving vaccines, treatments and the effects of meningitis remains a key aim for the Meningitis Trust.

Pneumococcal disease describes a group of illnesses caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, which includes invasive pneumococcal diseases such as bacteremia (bacterial infection of the blood), sepsis, meningitis and pneumonia associated with bloodstream infections referred to as bacteremic pneumonia. S. pneumoniae also causes non-invasive infections such as pneumonia, acute otitis media and sinusitis. In untreated or treatment failure cases, pneumococcal disease can lead to hearing loss, paralysis and sometimes death. Until recently, polysaccharide vaccines were the only form of protection against pneumococcal disease. However, they do not stimulate an adequate immune response in infants and young children. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine helps provide protection that was previously unavailable to infants and young children by stimulating the immune system and creating immune system memory against infections caused by this deadly bacteria.

Austrian health authorities have recommended the administration of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for the prevention of invasive pneumococcal disease for all children as young as two months of age.

Health authorities in France have recommended vaccination against pneumococcal disease for all children between the ages of two months and two years who have weakened immune status (those suffering from sickle cell disease, HIV, diabetes, pulmonary disease and asplenia), are in care for more than four hours a week in the company of more than two children (apart from siblings), have been breast-fed for less than two months and who belong to a family of at least three children of pre-school age. This recommendation applies to more than half of all children in France.

Source: Meningitis Trust

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