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Friday, 3 March, 2000, 11:47 GMT
Vaccine mask boosts measles fight

South African schoolchildren helped test the vaccine
A painless measles vaccine delivered by aerosol spray through a mask could be a useful weapon against the potentially killer virus.

Experts are hopeful that the inhaled vaccine could be used in mass innoculisation programmes in developing countries.

It could do away with the need for hundreds of thousands of syringes, reducing both the cost and the risk of injury and infection to medical workers.

As it is painless, it could also increase the number of children who come forward to receive the vaccine.

In fact, studies in South Africa - where the aerosol was developed - show that it could be more effective at preventing the disease than the traditional jab.

The research on 1,000 schoolchildren aged between five and 14 was published this week in the Lancet medical journal.

In the UK, toddlers are injected with vaccines
A vaccine works by giving a small dose of de-activated viruses, and this, although not causing the illness, lets the body prepare its defences for a real infection at a later date.

The body prepares by creating "antibodies" which are tuned to attack that particular virus.

One month after vaccination with the aerosol spray, nearly 85% of the children had developed levels of antibodies high enough to protect them from the measles virus.

This compared to only 79% and 63% who had received one of two different kinds of traditional jab.

Only 3.6% of the children had no measles antibodies in their blood, compared to 14% of injected children.

Dr Athmanundh Dilraj, from the South African Medical Research Council, which organised the trial, said that the vaccine worked in a different way when given by aerosol.

He said: "Some of the mechanisms could be that when you give the vaccination by injection, especially as a booster dose, the circulating antibodies can destroy some of the vaccine.

"However, the vaccine given by aerosol doesn't go by this route."

Although it is seldom a fatal illness in the UK, measles still kills thousands of children in less-developed countries every year.

The high fever it produces can also be permanently disabling.

The study's findings are to be presented to the World Health Organisation as it meets to discuss its measles eradication programme later this month.
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Infectious disease: A guide
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