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Flu Vaccine Could Prevent 357,000 Deaths in Pandemic

Predictive model shows shots would also save $7 billion in related health-care costs

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Vaccinating infants with what's known as the "7 valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine" (PCV7) could save more than 357,000 lives and $7 billion in costs by preventing bacterial infections during a flu pandemic, according to a predictive model developed by U.S. researchers.

Pneumococcal disease (such as meningitis) and other bacterial infections can follow flu and cause secondary infections that worsen flu symptoms and increase the risk of flu-related death. For example, it's believed that bacterial infections caused almost half of the deaths of young soldiers during the 1918 worldwide flu pandemic, according to background information in an Emory University news release.

"We've known for years that bacterial infections can develop after influenza. Unlike the 1918 flu pandemic, which preceded the antibiotic era, we now have vaccines that can prevent these types of pneumococcal infections. This model shows what a dramatically different outcome we could expect with standard PCV vaccination," Keith P. Klugman, professor of global health at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health, said in the news release.

He and colleagues at Harvard University, i3 Innovus in Medford. Mass., and Wyeth Research created a model to estimate the public health and economic effect current influenza vaccination practices would have on children younger than two years old during a flu pandemic. Since 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended PCV vaccinations for infants and children.

The model showed that current PCV vaccination practices lower costs in a typical flu season by $1.4 billion and would cut costs by $7 billion in a pandemic. It also predicted that PCV vaccination would prevent 1.24 million cases of pneumonia and 357,000 pneumococcal-related deaths in a pandemic.

The findings were presented this week at an infectious diseases conference in Washington, D.C.

"Our research shows that routine pneumococcal vaccination is a proactive approach that can greatly reduce the effects of a future flu pandemic," Klugman said. "Countries that have not yet implemented a pneumococcal vaccination program may want to consider this as part of their pandemic flu preparedness."

Klugman is a paid consultant for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, which funded the study.

More information

The Immunization Action Coalition has more about pneumococcal diseases.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Emory University, news release, Oct. 28, 2008

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