Clinical tests have shown the therapies developed by Soroka cut the rate of Pneumococcus infections in children by 20 percent.Dr. Ron Dagan has headed a research program at the Soroka Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Unit whose goal is to find ways to fight the increasing resistance to antibiotics, and to find ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in children.
His research has focused in particular on the Pneumococcus germs that infect particular children who are in daycare group programs. The research project in Beer Sheva has spearheaded the development of new vaccines that are already being used in several countries and that have won international and Israeli awards.
Dagan has found that the pneumococcus germs are quite prevalent in children. Any weakening of the child’s immune system, such as those that are caused when children have the flu, results is dramatic growth in the number of germs. These germs then spread to nose, ear and throat and to the brain and lungs, sometimes causing sinusitis, lung and ear infections and even inflammation of brain tissue. These germs have been responsible for the deaths of more than a million children throughout the world, accounting for 8 percent of all deaths in children.
The germs thrive in tight quarters, which accounts for their rapid spread in daycare centers. Soroka’s Infectious Disease Unit has found that over 50 percent of children in daycare centers carried the germs nasally. As the children were being given large doses of antibiotics, they also developed a higher resistance to the antibiotics and the circle of infections was expanding constantly.
The Pneumcoccus germs are not uniform – there are about 90 different kinds. Over the years, some promising vaccines have been developed throughout the world.
The Soroka Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Control Unit has begun a program to test which of these vaccines can lower the number of resistant germs. The program focused on daycare centers where germs tend to spread very quickly. The approach of Soroka’s IDU has focused on vaccines as the most efficient way to decrease the spread of disease, which in turn will reduce the use of antibiotics and the spread to more children.
Soroka’s research program selected eight daycare centers in Beer Sheva, which cared for 264 children between the ages of one and two. Half the children received the newly developed vaccine and the other half received older kinds of vaccines. The program lasted two years, and included examination of the children every two weeks, and follow-up on illness rates. The strong contacts created with the families helped expand the research to the younger siblings who were born in the same families throughout the program. The younger siblings showed that they indeed carried germs introduced by the older siblings.
After two years of research, it became clear that the children who received the new vaccines had a 20 percent lower disease rate than the second group. The research showed that 6 percent of the children in this age group spend time on antibiotics treatment and that the vaccinations can reduce the use of antibiotics by 26 percent.
In addition, the research showed that the younger siblings who were home benefited greatly from the vaccination of the older siblings, since they ended up carrying 50 percent less resistant germs than siblings of the second group who received the less-efficient vaccines.
Based on these results of the Beer Sheva Experiment, several European countries and several states in the U.S. have decided to vaccinate all children against the Pneumcoccus germs.