Stories about: infection control

How social media and a mumps outbreak teach us that vaccines build herd immunity

Mumps virus, pictured here, is usually preventable by vaccination.
The mumps virus, pictured here, has been spreading through Arkansas communities. Surprisingly, many affected people say they have received vaccinations to prevent it. Analyzing social media data helped a Boston Children’s Hospital team understand why so many people got sick.

Residents of Arkansas have been under siege by a viral threat that is typically preventable through vaccination. Since August 2016, more than 2,000 people have been stricken with mumps, an infection of the major salivary glands that causes uncomfortable facial swelling.

The disease is highly contagious but can usually be prevented by making sure that children (or adults) have had two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. But strangely, about 70 percent of people in Arkansas who got sick with mumps reported that they had received their two doses of the MMR vaccine.

So, members of the HealthMap lab, led by Chief Innovation Officer and director of the Computational Epidemiology Group at Boston Children’s Hospital, John Brownstein, PhD, asked, “Why did this outbreak take off?”

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Making the immune system work in new ways to stop hospital-acquired infections

Bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa (in brown) can move in on critically ill patients or those with cystic fibrosis. Could these bacteria hold the key to their own prevention? (CDC PHIL/Janice Haney Carr)

Putting children on a ventilator is sometimes necessary to save their lives, but it’s not without risks.

Doctors and nurses have to monitor ventilated patients carefully lest the machine over- or underinflate their lungs. Sometimes the very act of putting a child or adult on a ventilator can cause more lung damage (more on this in a future post). And life-threatening pathogens sometimes take advantage of a patient’s weakened state to set up shop in their lungs.

One of them is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium long associated with hospital-acquired or healthcare-associated infections (sometimes also called nosocomial infections). Gregory Priebe, MD, and other researchers have spent 40 years trying to develop an effective vaccine against it.

“It’s often resistant to antibiotics, and can be very difficult to treat, even deadly,” says Priebe, a critical care specialist and infectious disease researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital. “People with cystic fibrosis (CF) also get lung infections with P. aeruginosa, where it can lead to a chronic and ultimately fatal infection.”

While there have been some limited successes in creating a vaccine, researchers have struggled to develop one that can work against multiple subtypes of the bug at the same time.

Priebe thinks he may have come up with a workaround—one that makes use of a little known arm of the immune system.

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