Antibody Warfare: Vaccine halts microbes in dialysis patients

9:27am, February 13, 2002

By inducing the immune system to do a job that antibiotics sometimes can't, scientists have found a way to fend off a microbe that causes deadly blood infections.

The researchers fashioned a vaccine against the troublesome bacterium Staphylococcus aureus by packaging two of the microbe's own carbohydrate molecules with a protein that the immune system recognizes as foreign. This generates enough antibodies to defend against S. aureus in many kidney-dialysis patients, who are susceptible to staph infections, researchers report in the Feb. 14 New England Journal of Medicine.

Roughly one-fourth of all people at any given moment have S. aureus in or on their bodies. In most cases, the immune system or antibiotics kill off the bacteria. But by a Darwinian selection process, S. aureus strains that survive in hospitals and nursing homes–where many people are on long-term antibiotics–often become resistant to drugs.

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