Fraction of U.S. bacterial
meningitis cases due
to S. pneumoniae
Fraction of U.S. bacterial
meningitis cases due to
Drop in bacterial
Vaccinations cut cases by
nearly one-third over decade
By Nathan Seppa
Just a few decades ago, a pediatrician
getting a frantic phone call from a parent whose child was running a high
fever would immediately consider bacterial meningitis. Today, that diagnosis
is unlikely: Vaccination has slashed incidence of the deadly brain inflammation,
a nationwide survey shows.
Researchers scanned data from more
than 17 million people and found that the
incidence of bacterial meningitis in the
United States had fallen by 31 percent
from 1998 to 2007, researchers report
in the May 26 New England Journal
“For people taking care of kids since
the 1980s, the world of meningitis
has completely changed in the United
States—and it’s because of two
vaccines,” says Matthew Davis, a pedia-
trician at the University of Michigan
Medical School who was not part of the
new study. Parents know these as Hib,
the vaccine for Haemophilus influenzae
type B, and as PCV, for Streptococcus
pneumoniae. Those two microbes were
historically among the chief causes of
On the wane Vaccination programs have
lessened the toll of bacterial meningitis in the
United States in recent years.
Bacterial meningitis cases in U.S.
Per 100,000 population
1.49 1.41 1.38
SOURCE: M.C. THIGPEN E T AL/NEJM 2011
That vaccine reduced meningitis due to
S. pneumoniae by 26 percent between 1998
and 2007, the new data show. A recently
approved version of the vaccine will further reduce cases by broadening coverage
to 13 strains of the bacterium, predicts
study coauthor William Schaffner,
a physician at Vanderbilt University
School of Medicine in Nashville.
A third vaccine, aimed at another meningitis bacterium, Neisseria meningitidis,
was also approved in recent years. Called
the meningococcal vaccine, it is commonly given at the start of adolescence
and as a booster for college freshmen.
The new study suggests that giving
these vaccines to kids has also limited
meningitis outbreaks among adults, who
are now less likely to catch the microbes
from youngsters, says study coauthor
Cynthia Whitney of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Bacterial meningitis is treated with
antibiotics, but the inflammation that
it causes in the membrane covering
the brain and spinal cord can be lethal.
Although the number of cases has
dwindled, the fatality rate for bacterial
meningitis in the nationwide sampling
remains around 15 percent.
Treating pain changes brain activity
Fixing chronic back problems has benefits above the neck
By Laura Sanders
Wiping out chronic pain in the lower
back doesn’t just dull the agony. It allows
the brain to recover, too. Six months
after people’s backaches were eased,
their brains showed fewer signs of the
abnormalities that accompany chronic
pain, a new study shows.
This brain recovery is “a concrete message that certainly brings hope and relief
to those suffering from this condition,”
says UCLA neuroscientist Dante Chialvo.
In the study, neuroscientist Laura
Stone of McGill University in Montreal
and colleagues scanned the brains
of people who had experienced back
pain for at least a year. Compared with
healthy controls, chronic pain suffer-
ers had thinning in a brain region that’s
been linked to pain modulation, the left
dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This
region also showed abnormal activity
when people with chronic back pain took
a simple cognitive test while in a brain
scanner, the team found.