Vaccine fights toddler<br>disease on reservation

GC VILLAGE — A new vaccine just may be the answer to fighting a high invasive pneumococcal disease infection rate on Indian reservations.

Most Native American children who are prone to meningitis and other forms of pneumococcal diseases can be helped with a new vaccine.

Pneumococcal diseases, such as meningitis, pneumonia and serious blood stream infections, have been one of the major health problems for tribes such as the Navajo and Apache.

The Meningitis Foundation of America reports that Navajo children under age 5 who live on reservations in the Southwest are about twice as likely as all other American children their age to get sick with an invasive pneumococcal disease. Apache children are up to six times as likely to be stricken with these diseases.

A study completed last year by the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health found the vaccine, Prevnar, to be effective in protecting Native American children against these ailments.

In the study included more than 8,000 infants living in 38 Navajo and White Mountain Apache Indian communities between 1997-99. While some vaccines do not work well in Native American populations, the study found Prevnar to be nearly 86 percent effective at preventing serious pneumococcal infections among infants.

"The study also showed the vaccine helps prevent children from carrying the bacteria, which could keep unvaccinated children and adults in the community from becoming infected," the Meningitis Foundation reports.

Currently, antibiotics such as penicillin are frequently used to fight pneumococcal infections. However, pneumoccoccus has become difficult to treat because the bacteria that cause pneumococcal disease are becoming resistant to many common antibiotics, the foundation said.

"The need to prevent pneumococcal disease by vaccination has never been more important," the foundation reports.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend Prevnar for all children up to age 2. Because they are at higher risk for infection, it is suggested that the vaccine be considered for all Native American children up to age 5.

Native American children are eligible to receive the vaccine through the federal Vaccines for Children program.

For information on health issues for children, stop by the Grand Canyon Walk-In Clinic in the village.

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