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New Staph Vaccine Derived from Pathogens’ Toxins

Scientists at University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine have created a new staph vaccine that protects the public from Staphylococcus aureus infections by targeting toxins made by these bacteria. The toxins are responsible for symptoms people exhibit when infected with staph, such as high fever, low blood pressure, and toxic shock. The researchers suspect immunizing the population against the toxin can prevent staph-related pneumonia deaths associated with MRSA—a highly drug resistant form of Staphylococcus aureus.

In animal studies, rabbits were inoculated against three staph toxins and were unaffected even after being exposed to high doses of bacteria. In addition, the rabbits’ lungs were clear of the pathogens, protecting them from staph-related pneumonia. The team also took serum from the immunized rabbits and injected it into other animals. Protection was conferred (passive immunity) to those animals, indicating antibodies as a result of the vaccine were the factor that conveys immunity.

The scientists are hoping the new staph vaccine can protect the public from all strains of Staphylococcus aureus, including MRSA, and thus prevent serious conditions and deaths associated with the bacteria, such as pneumonia and sepsis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), staph-related infections and subsequent deaths are a major cause of disease in the United States.

In the past, staph vaccines were developed to target proteins on the surface of Staphylococcus aureus, which not only failed to effectively vaccinate the test subjects but, new studies have found, increased the acuity of staph infections.

Many healthy people in the community are colonized with staph on their skins, nose, and lungs, without acquiring an infection but can spread the bacteria to others who may be susceptible. The new staph vaccine may be the answer to preventing an infection that plagues hundreds of thousands of people in the United States each year.