Children's Hospital receives Gates Foundation grant of $6.7 million

For an infant, the flu is more than a passing bug.  And researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital are working to help alleviate the danger the flu presents to the young.

The research group, lead by CCH's Division of Global Health, has received a $6.7 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to expand a study looking into improved flu prevention methods for rural mothers and their infants the world over.

The foundational study, also funded by the Gates Foundation, demonstrates that flu vaccines protect both women and their infants from catching the bug.

This is a pressing health concern in rural parts of the world, as childbirth often occurs at home, where preventing infection in vulnerable infants can be a daunting challenge.  In this susceptible state, most childhood deaths occur within the first months of life.

"We have already shown, with the earlier first randomized trial in an urban setting, that the influenza vaccine protects both mothers and their children," says Mark Steinhoff, MD, director of the Division of Global Health.

This first study, Mother's Gift, appeared in the October 9, 2008 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine

The follow up study will be conducted in rural parts of Asia, and will assess the safety and effectiveness of vaccinating pregnant women in areas where access to medical resources are patchy at best.

"This new, larger field study will help us demonstrate the full effect of the flu vaccination in low-resource areas," Steinhoff says.

This study stands to act as the impetus to make this preventative measure, already common in the U.S. and Canada, available to women in developing countries. 

Toward that end, the CCH researchers, alongside colleagues from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Washington, will spend five years vaccinating 1,500 women in rural Bangladesh and Nepal.

Backed by evidence that vaccinating even one family member, particularly the mother, bolsters immunity in other family members, the researchers are hopeful that this advance will bring about a worldwide advance in infant health.

"If the flu vaccine has as great an effect in rural settings as in urban ones, the data will be globally relevant and useful to countries considering new vaccine policies," Steinhoff says.

Writer:  Jonathan DeHart
Source:  Cincinnati Children's Hospital, Division of Global Health

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