Entries in Meningococcal Meningitis (2)


California Researcher Dies From Infection He Studied

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- The death of a 25-year-old researcher studying a sinister strain of bacteria has highlighted the hazards of infectious disease research.

The man, whose name has not been released, died Saturday at the San Francisco VA Medical Center from a meningococcal infection he may have acquired while working at the hospital the day before.

Headache, fever and chills set in just two hours after the researcher left the lab where he was helping to develop a vaccine for Neisseria meningitidis, a bug that causes life-threatening blood infections and meningitis.

"The early symptoms of this infection are very non-specific," said Dr. Harry Lampiris, chief of infectious diseases at the San Francisco VA Medical Center. "In the first few hours, people don't realize how sick they really are."

The next morning, the researcher woke up with a rash, and asked friends to drive him to the hospital, Lampiris said. But he lost consciousness in the car, and arrived without a pulse. Despite repeated attempts to resuscitate him, he died that afternoon.

This is not the first time a researcher working with meningococcal disease has become infected and died. A 2005 study in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology describes 16 cases between 1985 and 2001, eight of which were fatal. In 15 cases, the researchers were working without the proper respiratory protection.

"It looks like he took all the appropriate precautions," said Limpiris, describing the ventilated workspace in the lab that sucks air up and any from the person handling the bacteria. "But this is under investigation by Cal-OSHA [California Occupational Health and Safety Association]."

Calls to Cal-OSHA were not immediately returned.

Neisseria meningitidis is transmitted person-to-person through respiratory droplets. The San Francisco Department of Public Health identified 10 people who had close contact with the researcher, including his girlfriend and his roommates, and treated them prophylactically with antibiotics, according to department spokeswoman Eileen Shields.

The VA Hospital treated an additional 60 people, including the researcher's coworkers and medical staff involved in his treatment, according to Lampiris.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which is not directly involved in the investigation, is consulting with local health officials.

"It's exceedingly rare for someone to acquire a fatal infection due to the work they perform in the lab," said CDC spokesman Tom Skinner. "When something like this happens, it's a tragedy. We want to learn as much as we can about what happened as a way to prevent it from happening again in the future."

Limpiris said the researcher was "well-trained, hard-working and very talented."

Dr. William Schaffner, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., said procedures and protocols can never eliminate the hazards of working with infectious diseases.

"There are very elaborate, very thoughtfully prepared safety protocols in place, but there's always a risk," he said, a risk researchers carefully weigh against the benefits of vaccines and treatments that save millions of lives.

"This work is essential in order to develop preventive measures," he said. "Let's not forget this is a dangerous strain of this bacteria for which we do not have a vaccine."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Organizations Strive to Save African Children from Meningitis

Jeffrey Hamilton/LifesizeDOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK
By DR. RICHARD BESSER, ABC News Senior Health and Medical Editor

(NEW YORK) -- One day, Florence plans to turn on the lights.

Her family home in Burkina Faso has no electricity but she aims to change that. It won't be easy, but she wants to be an electrician -- and I would bet anyone that she will reach her goal.

She is 22 and deaf, a result of meningococcal meningitis which stole her hearing when she was just 6 years old. In this part of the world, her story is all too common.

Burkina Faso lies in West Africa in the heart of the meningitis belt. For some unknown reason, epidemics of type A meningococcal meningitis sweep through this region on a regular basis during the dry season, killing tens of thousands of people and leaving even more damaged.

A fever during the dry season, January through April, has long struck fear in parents -- until now.

In December, the government of Burkina Faso started vaccinating all those between the ages of 1 and 29 against this disease using a vaccine made just for Africa.

This is a really big deal: for the first time, a vaccine was made for a disease only found in Africa.

While meningococcal disease affects people around the globe, epidemic type A disease only occurs here.

Big Pharma had no interest in developing a vaccine -- no business case for a vaccine whose target would only be the poorest people in the world.

So the global community came together: more than a dozen organizations, including WHO, PATH, the FDA, and the Serum Institute of India agreed that this was the right thing to do.

When I was at the CDC, I served for a couple years as the chief of the meningitis branch and first became aware of this project.

Our branch had a technical support conducting studies to evaluate the vaccine. I met the project director, Dr. Marc LeForce of PATH at the project headquarters in France back in 2004.

His quixotic dream was to make a vaccine to sell for less than 50 cents a dose.

Noble idea, I thought, but not likely to be achieved. The meningitis vaccine in use in the U.S. costs more than $100 per dose; how could you ever make a vaccine for just pennies?

New Vaccine Means Fewer New Deafness Cases

My trip to Burkina Faso is an acknowledgement that I was wrong. The global effort took 10 years but in the end delivered a miracle.

The MeningAfrique vaccine was launched in December and over a 12-day period, the entire at-risk population was offered vaccine.

This afternoon, I walked through an empty ward in the children's hospital, the ward reserved for meningitis.

They have only seen one case this year and that was in a young woman who had not been vaccinated.

As a pediatrician, I remember vividly having to tell parents that their children had meningitis, having to tell parents that their children were deaf.

Here in Burkina Faso, there will now be fewer of those conversations. The fear of the dry season may now start to disappear.

The new vaccine arrived too late for Florence.

Her mother, Rosalee, told me she will do all she can to tell people the importance of being vaccinated.

She knows the horror of this disease first hand. In addition to Florence, her other two children also had meningitis and are deaf.

This afternoon, I sat with them in the courtyard in front of their one-room home.

What struck me about Rosalee and her children was their faith that God had a plan for them and that they were going to make it.

Her son, Xavier, 28, is learning to be a carpenter. Her daughter Diane, 24, weaves cell phone cases from strips of nylon.

And Florence attends a school for the deaf where she is learning to be an electrician.

I ask her why she wants to be an electrician. Her face lights up with the most incredible smile. She tells me using sign language that she has always wanted to be an electrician. One day, she will bring electricity to her home so they can use sign language at night, and her sister and mother can weave after dark.

"I have to study for three more years," she tells me. And when she says it, I can picture the lights coming on in her home, just as the light has come into so many lives here that no longer need to fear epidemics of meningitis.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio