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Gambia to Introduce New Vaccine

Jun 9, 2009, 7:13 AM | Article By: Pa Modoou Faal

The Gambia will by the end of this month introduce a new vaccine called the pneumococcal vaccine in its immunization system, making it the second country in Africa after Uganda to introduce it.

This was disclosed to Health Matters by Mr. Dawda Sowe, Communication Officer at the Gambia Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

What is pneumococcal disease?

Pneumococcal disease is caused by bacterial infection called Streptococcus pneumoniae, also called pneumococcus that can infect the lungs (pneumonia), the blood (bacteremia), and the membrane that covers the brain (meningitis). The disease is most likely to strike in the winter and spring, but there are cases year round. The most common symptoms are chills, fever, chest pain, shortness of breath, and a severe cough. Some people vomit or have seizures. Pneumococcal disease kills thousands of older people in the United States each year.

How is pneumococcal disease spread?

The germ is spread through contact with people who are ill with pneumococcal disease or who carry the germ in their throat. The germs that cause the disease can live in the nose and throat of many healthy children and adults without causing disease.

Who gets pneumococcal disease?

Although anyone can get invasive pneumococcal disease, it occurs more frequently in infants, young children, or in people with serious underlying medical conditions such as chronic lung, heart or kidney disease. Others at risk include alcoholics, diabetics, people with weakened immune systems and those without a spleen.

How is the disease transmitted?

The pneumococcus is spread by airborne or direct exposure to respiratory droplets from a person who is infected or carrying the bacteria.

When does invasive pneumococcal disease occur?

Infections occur most often during the winter and early spring when respiratory illnesses are more common.

How soon after exposure do symptoms occur?

The incubation period may vary but it is generally one to three days.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms generally include an abrupt onset of fever and shaking or chills. Other common symptoms may include headache, cough, chest pain, disorientation, shortness of breath, weakness and occasionally stiff neck.

How is invasive pneumococcal disease diagnosed?

Doctors are able to diagnose pneumococcal disease based on the type of symptoms exhibited by the patient and specific laboratory cultures of sputum, blood or spinal fluid.

How is pneumococcal disease treated?

Pneumococcal disease is treated with antibiotics. In some areas, one-third of pneumococcal infections are resistant to some antibiotics, making treatment more difficult. People with more severe cases may need to be treated in the hospital, sometimes in intensive care.

Is pneumococcal disease dangerous?

Yes. It can be. Pneumococcal disease is one of the most common causes of vaccine-preventable death in this country. Every year thousands of people need hospital treatment and up to 5,500 people die because of pneumococcal disease. Pneumococcal infection is the cause of more than one-third of pneumonia in adults. It is also the leading cause of pneumonia, blood infection and ear infection in children.

Can pneumococcal disease be prevented?

Yes. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7), protects against 7 types of the pneumococcal bacteria most likely to cause infection in young children, and is approved for infants and children younger than 5 years of age.

How safe are the pneumococcal vaccines?

Any vaccine can cause side effects in some people. Some people who get pneumococcal vaccines have a little swelling and pain in the arm where the shot was given. This usually lasts for less than 2 days. Some children getting PCV7 may have a fever that lasts a few days. Other side effects, such as aching muscles, and severe side effects, such as allergic reactions, are rare.