vaccine to wipe out tonsillitis * qld

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    Vaccine to wipe out tonsillitis
    08:19 AEST Wed Oct 13 2004

    A simple injection could soon spell the end of one of mankind's most pervasive and painful infections - tonsillitis.

    Queensland scientists have just received the financial go-ahead to begin human trials on the new vaccine which, if successful, would also wipe out the skin infection known as school sores and the potentially deadly rheumatic fever.

    Queensland Institute of Medical Research director Professor Michael Good said the vaccine worked by attacking the pathogen at the root of the infections - Group A streptococcus (GAS).

    He said most children at some stage developed either tonsillitis, which caused inflamed tonsils in the throat, or school sores as a result of GAS.

    "It's spread from person to person by close contact, coughing and so on, and can also affect the skin," Prof Good said.

    He said if untreated by antibiotics, one in 10 cases of tonsillitis developed into rheumatic fever - an auto-immune disease where the body's immune system attacks some of its own tissues and organs along with the pathogen.

    Prof Good said although the body was eventually able to repair most of the damage, the weakening of the heart and its valves (called rheumatic heart disease) was irreversible.

    "When they (the valves) scar they don't work properly as a pump - eventually leading to heart failure," Prof Good said.

    He said every subsequent case of tonsillitis that a child or adult then caught led to further weakening of the heart.

    Prof Good said the average life expectancy of a person suffering from rheumatic heart disease was 33 years, causing 400,000 premature deaths worldwide every year.

    He said his team had already had great success trialling the vaccine on mice, but now thanks to a $US2.5 million ($A3.41 million) grant from the American National Institutes of Health, they would now be able to conduct preliminary human trials.

    Prof Good said in the past he believed developing a vaccine had been ignored because rheumatic fever was an illnesses of underdeveloped countries or indigenous communities without ready access to health care.

    He said Australia's Aboriginal community had the highest rate of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease in the world.

    "There are some 651 cases of rheumatic fever per 100,000 in some communities compared to 0.2 in the rest of the country," he said.



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