Since the pneumococcal vaccine was introduced in 2000, the
incidents of pneumonia, bacterial meningitis and blood infections
in children has been reduced by half.
The bad news? Other strains not covered by the vaccine are now
taking center stage.
Specifically, there's been a 70 percent increase in the rate of
children with empyema, according to a study in the journal
Pediatrics. Empyema is a complication of pneumonia that makes
breathing painful and often requires hospitalization and the use of
a chest tube to treat.
Dr. Tina Tan, a physician at Children's Memorial Hospital's
Division of Infectious Diseases, says she is treating empyema "all
the time." Typically, she says, the children have already been
diagnosed with pneumonia, but aren't improving.
"They have high fever, trouble breathing, they're vomiting,
listless," she says.
There are more than 90 strains of pneumococci. Prevnar, the
current vaccine, focuses on the seven strains that cause a majority
of pneumonia cases in children under 5.
"But now," she says, "the other organisms that were around and
had just been overshadowed before, now you're really seeing those
Soon, the Food and Drug Administration likely will approve a new
vaccine that covers 13 strains of pneumococcus, including the
strain most likely to cause empyema.
Specific recommendations, such as whether children who have
already had Prevnar need this new vaccine as well, have not been
provided yet, Tan says.
Lisa Applegate is a freelance writer and mom of one living in Chicago.
See more of Lisa's stories here.
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