Pneumonia bugs kill 1.2 million children - study

Thu Sep 10, 2009 10:35pm EDT

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WASHINGTON, Sept 10 (Reuters) - More than a million children die every year from two pneumonia-causing diseases easily prevented with vaccines, researchers reported on Thursday.

Each year 1.2 million children under age 5 die from Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae B or Hib, they found.

Their study, published in the Lancet medical journal, found an estimated 14.5 million cases of pneumococcal disease such as pneumonia and meningitis worldwide, most caused by S. pneumoniae, with 826,000 deaths among children under 5.

Safe and effective vaccines exist for both, but use of Hib vaccine has only recently expanded to low-income countries and pneumococcal vaccine is not included in national immunization programs in the developing world yet, the researchers said.

"Our findings underscore the urgent need for prevention efforts throughout the developing world," said Kate O'Brien, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who led the study.

"The need for vaccination and improved treatment is particularly urgent in Africa and Asia, which together account for 95 percent of all pneumococcal deaths."

Another study by the United Nation's children's fund UNICEF showed that better prevention methods for malaria and action to reduce mother-to-child AIDS virus transmission had reduced childhood deaths from other causes.

It found 8.8 million children under five died in 2008 compared with 12.5 million in 1990. But 99 percent of the children who died lived in poor countries.

Wyeth's WYE.N Prevnar, which protects against seven strains of S. pneumonia, is part of the routine childhood vaccination package in the United States and other developed countries.

Several companies including Merck and Co. (MRK.N) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) make Hib vaccines. They prevent meningitis caused by H. influenzae, pneumonia and a severe throat infection called epiglottitis.

The non-profit Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization or GAVI provides Hib vaccine to 35 African nations. (Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Anthony Boadle)