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September 19, 2002

International Experts Take Aim at Global Reduction of Hib Disease

Conference will take place September 22-25 in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Infectious disease specialists and health ambassadors from around the world will gather at an international conference, entitled "Global Reduction of Hib Disease: What Are the Next Steps," September 22-25 at the Hilton Scottsdale Resorts and Villas in Scottsdale, Ariz., to develop strategies to reduce the incidence of Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) disease.

Hib, estimated to kill more than 300,000 children in developing countries each year, is a common bacterium that causes meningitis. Hib was the leading cause of acquired mental retardation in the United States prior to the development of a vaccine in the early 1990s. The vaccine is now routinely given to children in the U.S. and many European countries but is not widely used by developing countries; fewer than 10 percent of the world’s poorest children are being protected against Hib. Before the vaccine was introduced, over 20,000 cases of Hib were reported in the United States annually. After the vaccine was introduced, there are now fewer than 50 cases each year.

During the conference, the first meeting of its kind since vaccines have been widely used, attendees will discuss how to reduce Hib in the United States and other industrialized countries to the lowest possible levels. These efforts will help achieve the national goal of zero cases in children under the age of 5 by 2010.

Experts will travel from 33 countries and review over 10 years' worth of international experience with Hib disease and the impact vaccines have had on the disease. Of the attendees, 16 are from countries that do not currently use the Hib vaccine and represent 65 million children born each year. The attendees will translate the lessons learned in the United States and other industrialized countries to help expand protection to children living in underdeveloped countries not already using the vaccine.

Mathuram Santosham, MD, chair of the conference and a professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said, “The conference attendees have four goals to accomplish during the four-day conference. We will look at the history of Hib, discuss ways to bring the disease rates down in countries already using the vaccine, look at the obstructions involved with introducing the vaccine into developing countries, and, finally, discuss strategies for disseminating the lessons we’ve learned as public health officials.”

Dr. Santosham, also the director of the Center for American Indian Health (CAIH) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, continued, “While we have been effective at reducing Hib incidence in the United States to an all-time low through high immunization, it’s important to consider that Hib still exists due to the continuous circulation of the disease and under-immunization, especially in pockets of the population such as Native Americans, African Americans, and Hispanics. This summit will look at ways to overcome barriers to further reducing Hib disease in the United States and the rest of the world.”

Hib is a bacterium that can, once in the bloodstream, affect many organs and cause serious complications. Before the widespread use of the vaccine, Hib disease was the leading cause of bacterial meningitis among U.S. children under age 5, a disorder that can cause brain injury and deafness. Other clinical manifestations of Hib disease include pneumonia, epiglottis (severe swelling in the throat), joint infection, and even death. Before Hib conjugate vaccines were in use, one in every 200 children in the United States younger than age 5 years were affected by Hib disease. Over the past decade, the introduction of the Hib vaccine has dramatically reduced the number of cases in the United States. However, due to the continuous circulation of the disease through carriage in adults and older children, the risk for Hib disease still exists.

Conference sponsors include Aventis, Merck, Wyeth, Chiron, PATH and Glaxo-SmithKline.

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Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham @ 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu