Talking to your doctor about Childhood Vaccines
A deadly bacterial infection once linked to deadly meningitis and pneumonia has spawned a new strain, this time affecting mostly First Nations people, and researchers are trying to understand why before it gets out of control.
Type B Haemophilus influenzae led to countless deaths in the last century, but was virtually eradicated by the 1990s through ongoing vaccine programs. By 2006, however, Dr. Marina Ulanova of Lakehead University's Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) in Thunder Bay, Ont., had noticed that a rare but similarly deadly cousin of the bacterial infection -- a Type A strain -- had begun to hit Canadians in First Nations communities especially hard.
The team is collecting small blood samples from participants in affected communities in northwestern Ontario, where the infections are most prevalent, and studying them for antibodies.
"It's been challenging ... historically, there's a lot of issues and mistrust to overcome, but we have a few communities who have expressed some interest, so we're working our way through the network," research team member Dr. Eli Nix said.
"Ideally (the study would include) remote First Nations, closer First Nations -- those accessible by road -- then we'd look at urban aboriginals," he said.
The scope of the study depends on funding, which the team only just applied for, he added.
One possible explanation for the higher incidence rate among aboriginals is that the population might not have adequate natural immunity to the bacteria.
But Nix said it's more likely a symptom of the dire conditions in some native communities.
For instance, 117 of Canada's 643 First Nations communities are currently under boil-water advisories, and most of those are in northern Ontario. With high food prices in those communities, people tend to buy high-calorie food that lacks nutritional value because it's cheaper, leading to possible weaker immune symptoms. Diabetes rates are also vastly higher in aboriginal communities.
"All these things would definitely have an impact on your immune system ... That's one of the most obvious explanations," Nix said.
That's why creating a vaccine is so important before these infections become an epidemic, he said.
"The vaccine would give the body antibody levels to fight this, so that's our drive right now. This is all laying the groundwork for vaccine development."
The group has applied for a three-year grant to further the study. If their grant application is successful, they hope to have a vaccine for public use by the time the three-year term is up.
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