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Bardstown doctor part of vaccine study

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Prevention researched for third type of meningococcal bacteria

For the last four years, a pediatrician in Bardstown has been working with doctors around the country on a vaccine for a strain of meningococcal disease.

Dr. Stanley Block’s work deals with the research side of the vaccine. His office has been chosen as one of about 50 locations to administer vaccine trials in order to collect data on its effectiveness.

Most babies are immunized for two of the three types of bacteria in the meningococcal disease. A strain of the third bacteria is what the meningococcal B vaccine is being made to cover.

The third bacteria can cause two forms of illness. One form is meningococcal meningitis in which protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord become infected and swell. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists symptoms of nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and confusion.

The other form is meningococcemia in which the bacteria enters the blood stream and multiply damaging blood vessel walls which causes bleeding into the skin and organs. Symptoms on the CDC’s website include fatigue, vomiting, cold hands and feet, cold chills, severe aches or pain in the muscles, joints, chest or abdomen, rapid breathing, diarrhea or a dark purple rash.

Block said the meningococcemia is “really deadly.”

“It can kill a child or teenager within hours of getting it,” Block said. “We hate seeing it because it’s the most terrifying thing we see in pediatrics.”

He said doctors have to act quickly and treat it on a hunch because they won’t know for sure what disease it is until they get the blood culture back three days later, and by then it could be worse or deadly.

“It’s a difficult diagnosis for practitioners and ER doctors,” Block said.

There are treatments but if not diagnosed quickly, the disease could have profound effects. He said antibiotics can combat the disease but are not always effective.

CDC reports that about 1,000 to 1,200 people get meningococcal disease each year in the United States. Of those people who are treated with antibiotics, 10 to 15 percent will die. Of those who live, 11 to 19 percent of people have issues with their nervous system, lose their arms or legs, become deaf or suffer seizures or stroke.

“No matter our best efforts, sometimes we’ll fail miserably despite perfect treatment, that’s why we’re terrified of it,” Block said.

While the disease is rare, Block has seen 11 cases in Nelson County.

“The ones that I’ve seen the last 30 years have all survived, thank God,” Block said.

The disease is contagious and Block said about 5 percent of people carry it in their nose.

He said about one in 100,000 will get the disease. It can be transferred through close contact. The risk for contracting the disease can be increased by smoking, being a baby or a teenager, or living in close quarters.

Block said three drug companies have been working on the vaccine for decades.

The vaccine study has been going on for more than six months. Healthy patients are asked if they would like to be vaccinated for the disease. The results of the study and the effectiveness of the vaccine won’t be known for several years in order to keep the study unbiased and to follow up with patients.

Block said the shot usually is given in combination with other routine vaccines. He said he has had people with a family history of the disease contact his office about being vaccinated.

“We’re excited about having something to help protect the teens and the children against a very severe bad disease that can be devastating or killing within several hours,” Block said.

Kristie Hamon can be reached at (502) 348-9003 or khamon@kystandard.com.