How we’re learning more about meningococcal bacteria and of the impact of MenB vaccines

06 Dec 2017
How we’re learning more about meningococcal bacteria and of the impact of MenB vaccines

At Meningitis Research Foundation’s (MRF) conference in London on Wednesday 15 November, Professor Adam Finn from the University of Bristol and Prof Helen Marshall from the University of Adelaide summarised the current progress being made that aims to protect whole populations against group B meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia (MenB). 

Adam said “In the UK, teenagers are the age group most likely to ‘carry’ the meningococcal bacteria at the back of their nose and throat, and they can spread it to other people.

“The UK government agreed to fund a national study to find out whether vaccinating teenagers against MenB prevents them carrying and spreading the bacteria.

“If found to be the case, introducing the MenB vaccine into the routine immunisation schedule for teenagers could mean that MenB will die out," - Professor Adam Finn

“If found to be the case, introducing the MenB vaccine into the routine immunisation schedule for teenagers could mean that MenB will die out, just as MenC did 15 years ago by the exact same method.

“For the large-scale government funded study to provide clear answers, we need to understand how it should best be run, and that’s what we’re working to find out at the University of Bristol, with funding from MRF.

“We are currently analysing throat swabs and saliva samples from 433 Bristol students who have been vaccinated against MenB.

“From this study we hope to understand: The feasibility of conducting vaccine research in schools; whether repeated saliva sampling offers a more convenient and acceptable way of assessing bacterial carriage compared to more conventionally used throat swabs; whether the MenB vaccine appears to prevent carriage of the MenB bacteria.

“We’ll also be using this opportunity to carry out detailed research looking at what enables the meningococcal bacteria to successfully colonise in the noses and throats of some people and how they then spread it to other people.”

" ... not enough is known about the prevalence of meningococcal bacteria in the noses and throats of Australian teenagers.” - Professor Helen Marshall

Helen said, “MenB is the commonest cause of meningococcal disease in South Australia, but not enough is known about the prevalence of meningococcal bacteria in the noses and throats of Australian teenagers.”

“We have over 34,000 students in years 10 to 12 in South Australia taking part in our study, “B Part of It”. Throat swabs have been obtained from all students and around half of them were subsequently given two doses of MenB vaccine. All students will return in April 2018 for a repeat swab. The aim is to find out whether the MenB vaccine reduces the prevalence of meningococcal bacteria being carried in the noses and throats of those vaccinated against MenB, compared with those who have not been vaccinated, a year later.

“The results from this study could tell us whether vaccinating Australian students against MenB could stop the transmission of disease and indirectly protect other age groups from MenB meningitis and septicaemia. We are working together with UK researchers and our results can also be aggregated with the research taking place in the UK and combined, these two research initiatives could show how to defeat MenB everywhere it exists.”

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