Progress made on Group B streptococcus vaccine

An early clinical study shows that a vaccine to prevent Group B Streptococcus infection is safe and modestly effective, according to findings presented Oct. 30 at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America in Philadelphia.

GBS is the most common cause of sepsis and meningitis in newborns in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can also cause severe illness in pregnant women, the elderly and adults with chronic illnesses. Colonization of the genital or gastrointestinal tract is a critical risk factor for infections caused by GBS.

The researchers, led by Sharon L. Hillier, from the Magee-Womens Research Institute at the University of the Pittsburgh, found that the vaccine used in the study can cause a modest but sustained reduction in genital and gastrointestinal GBS bacterial colonization.

The GBS bacterium, which is commonly found in the gut and genital tracts, can infect the fetus during gestation and birth or after delivery. Pregnancy-related infections can lead to serious consequences for women including stillbirth, according to the MedPage Today report.

Currently, one-third of pregnant women in the United States test positive for asymptomatic GBS and receive antibiotics during labor to prevent infection of the newborn. Although this antibiotic strategy is highly effective, the broad use of antibiotics in pregnant women is of concern to public health officials. Many women are allergic to penicillin and penicillin-type antibiotics that are the preferred treatment, and GBS is increasingly resistant to other common antibiotics.