UCSD Experts to Raise Awareness of Meningitis Prevention

The California Teratogen Information Service (CTIS) Pregnancy Health Information Line, a state-wide non-profit organization based at the University of California, San Diego with affiliates across North America, will join in the effort to raise awareness of meningitis prevention by helping to launch a new study that will assess safety of the meningitis vaccine in pregnancy. The launch coincides with World Meningitis Day on Sunday, April 24, 2011.

Through evidence-based clinical information, CTIS Pregnancy Health Information Line aims to educate women about exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding through a toll-free hotline as well as observational research studies. The organizations parent national non-profit, the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS) study group, is looking for the help of pregnant women to collect information on exposures like the meningitis vaccine in pregnancy, with a goal of enrolling pregnant women who have received the meningitis vaccine during their first few weeks of pregnancy. The study, coordinated at UCSD, will be ongoing through 2015.

"This is an important vaccine," says Christina Chambers, PhD, MPH, professor of pediatrics and an epidemiologist with a special focus in the area of birth defects prevention at UC San Diego School of Medicine. Chambers also serves as program director of CTIS Pregnancy Health Information Line. "Vaccination is recommended because teens and young adults, those ages 16 through 21 years, have the highest rates of meningococcal disease. Even though the disease is not very common, we want to prevent as many adolescents as possible from getting it. Meningococcal bacteria can cause severe disease, including meningitis and sepsis, resulting in permanent disabilities and even death," she explained.

Dozens of countries from North and South America, to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia have participated in World Meningitis Day since its inception in 2009.

In addition to teens and young adults, other groups who may be at an increased risk of meningitis and are recommended to receive the vaccine include those who are living in close group quarters such as college freshmen living in a dormitory, military recruits, individuals who are traveling or residing in countries where the disease is common, and people in certain occupations or with certain kinds of immune disorders.

However, when it comes to getting the meningitis vaccine during pregnancy, not a lot is known. "The meningococcal vaccine is not specifically recommended in pregnancy because it has not been well-studied," added Chambers. "However, there is no data to suggest that this vaccine is harmful in pregnancy, which is why its so important to closely study it so that pregnant women and their health care providers can make the best choices for treatment and prevention in mothers and babies."

"Anyone whos had exposure to a meningitis vaccine within the first trimester of pregnancy is eligible to enroll," says Diana Johnson, MS, study manager for OTIS studies. However, even if they havent been exposed to the vaccine during pregnancy, pregnant women can still take part in the new study by enrolling as a comparison group participant. "Those who choose to share their pregnancy through this study will be helping to contribute to the overall published information in the future, helping a lot of future moms and babies," explained Johnson. Participants will also receive a copy of the results of the study.

Participation in the new study involves two to four phone interviews and release of medical records relating to the womans current pregnancy. More information is available at OTISPregnancy.org or by calling OTIS Studies at (877) 311-8972.

Questions or concerns about meningitis, the meningitis vaccine or any other exposure during pregnancy or breastfeeding can be directed to CTIS Pregnancy Health Information Line at (800) 532-3749 or via instant message counseling at CTISPregnancy.org. Outside of California, please call OTIS counselors at (866) 626-6847.