Updated
October 21st, 2019

Weak Immune Systems Linked to Bacterial Infections in Children

Immune system evaluations may be needed for children older than 2 years presenting with invasive pneumococcal disease

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A new study has found a bacterial infection that can lead to pneumonia or meningitis is linked to weakened immune systems in children.

This study found the rate of immune deficiency in healthy children presenting with pneumococcal disease was up to 26.4 percent.

The new research published on September 30, 2019, in JAMA Pediatrics, is important news since pneumococcal disease causes around 11 percent of children aged under 5 fatalities annually.

These researchers say ‘invasive pneumococcal disease, especially more than 1 episode, could be an important marker of a child having an immune deficiency.’

And, to improve early identification of an immune deficiency and prevent further infections, a better understanding of the risk factors for pneumococcal disease is needed.

Various studies have shown that almost 70 percent of children with an immune deficiency had 2 or more bouts of invasive pneumococcal disease.

This was the first study since the widespread availability of pneumococcal vaccine.

"Even with optimal vaccine coverage, this research shows there is a group of children who are vulnerable to this life-threatening bacterial infection," study senior author Dr. Amanda Gwee, from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, said in an October 14, 2019, press release.

Pneumococcal disease, where bacteria infects a major organ or a person's blood, can lead to serious health problems such as sepsis, pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections.

Lead author Dr. Coen Butters, from The Royal Children's Hospital, says children over two years of age who present with pneumococcal disease should have testing of their immune system.

"There are no guidelines for immune evaluation of these children, which results in significant variation in practice," Dr. Butter says. 

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"There is a risk that these children could be missed, resulting in delayed diagnosis, delayed access to specialist services and more stress for families."

"Early testing enables us to ensure a healthy immune system and where required, offer education and treatment to reduce the very real risk of recurrent infections and death."

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The study is the first to systematically examine results from 17 studies of 6,022 children, under the age of 18, worldwide.

Dr. Butters says the study will inform current clinical guidelines and form the basis for further clinical studies in this area. He says further studies looking at the predisposing factors for invasive pneumococcal disease in the era of pneumococcal immunization are required.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says vaccines help prevent pneumococcal disease, which is any type of infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria.

There are 2 kinds of pneumococcal vaccines available in the United States:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine

The CDC recommends the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine for all adults 65 years or older, people 2 through 64 years old with certain medical conditions, and adults 19 through 64 years old who smoke cigarettes.

No researcher conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Pneumococcal vaccine news published by Precision Vaccinations