Reducing flu in babies living with AIDS
Can vaccinating pregnant women against the flu protect their newborn babies from getting the influenza virus?
Well, that’s exactly what a clinical study in 3 countries, including South Africa, wants to find out.

The intervention involves vaccinating pregnant women with the influenza vaccine in order to protect their babies against the flu virus. This is not as direct as vaccinating the baby itself. But researchers believe that this approach can yield a positive result.  

If successful, the intervention can protect babies from the time they are born up to about four months of age.
Influenza is by no means the biggest killer of babies in the country, but it’s one of those viruses for which a preventative vaccine exists to avoid severe disease in babies. Professor Madhi believes that this intervention could work. A recent similar study in Bangladesh among a small sample of almost 400 women has shown encouraging results.   

“Children that were born to mothers who received the influenza vaccine were 50% – 60% less likely to develop influenza illness compared to children that were born to mothers that didn’t receive the influenza vaccine. So, we’ve got fairly good evidence from a very different setting that this is a strategy that might very well work”, he says.

In South Africa, over 1 000 pregnant women are already participating in the study. There will be around 4 500 women participating over three years. Other places where the study is being conducted are Mali and Nepal. The study in South Africa involves both HIV-positive and HIV-uninfected women.        

“In South Africa, unfortunately, we’ve got this huge burden of HIV infection in pregnant women and we need to know whether this particular strategy works if a woman is HIV-infected as well as if a woman is HIV-uninfected. So, we expect there might be differences in how well the woman responds to the vaccine, depending on whether they are HIV-infected or not. Individuals that are HIV-infected certainly develop more severe influenza illness than those that are uninfected. But in the context of this particular study, the additional important factor is how well these antibodies transfer from mothers to the babies and whether there are any differences between HIV-infected and uninfected women in relation to the amount of antibodies that successfully transfer over to the baby to protect the baby”, Professor Madhi concludes. 

What do you think about vaccinating pregnant HIV women against the flu?

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