FDA Approves Meningitis Vaccine For Infants

on June 15, 2012 1:13 PM EDT

Injection
The Food and Drug Administration approved a new combination vaccine for infants, Menhibrix, aimed at preventing the two infections that cause meningitis, meningococcal disease, and Hib disease, all of which can be fatal. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The Food and Drug Administration approved a new combination vaccine for infants, Menhibrix, aimed at preventing the two infections that cause meningitis, meningococcal disease, and Hib disease, all of which can be fatal.

The FDA approved the four-dose vaccine's use for children ages 6 weeks through 18 months. Researchers tested the vaccine's safety in over 7,500 children, with common side effects including pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, irritability and fever.

"With today's approval of Menhibrix, there is now a combination vaccine that can be used to prevent potentially life-threatening Hib disease and two types of meningococcal disease in children," Dr. Karen Midthun, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said, according to CBS News.

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Meningococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitides and typically leads to meningitis, a deadly infection that affects the covering of the brain and the spinal cord. The disease is most often diagnosed in infants and young adults. Doctors diagnose approximately 1,000 cases per year.

Meningitis and meningococcal disease are spread through close contact, much like the common cold, although it is less contagious.  Infants with meningococcal meningitis may appear to be slow or inactive, may act irritable, vomit or not eat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hib disease can also cause meningitis, but can also causes infections that make it difficult to breath, such as pneumonia. Hib disease spreads through secretions of the nose and throat.

The three infections are especially dangerous in infants, because their early symptoms look like other common illnesses, such as the common cold.  Meningococcal disease and Hib disease often progress quickly and can cause death or serious, long health consequences such as blindness, intellectual disability or amputations.

"(Meningitis) is one of those diseases that although not common, when it occurs it's absolutely devastating and horrible," Dr. Len Friedland, vice president of clinical and medical affairs for Glaxo, manufacturer of the vaccine, told Reuters. "It presents to the doctor when a child just looks ill, and within 18 to 24 hours, they're on the deathbed in the hospital. To be able to have a vaccine to prevent meningitis is really a great day."

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