A Murdoch Children's Research Institute led project has received funding for research into a serious bacterial infection in children that could lead to better use of vaccines and improved health.

The project, to be run in collaboration with Yale School of Public Health and the University of Mississippi Medical Center, secured a research grant for pneumococcal pneumonia from the MSD Pneumococcus Investigator Studies Program (MISP).

Pneumonia is a leading cause of childhood illness and death around the world. Pneumococcal pneumonia is caused by bacteria that normally live in the upper respiratory tract and can be spread by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include high fever, excessive sweating and shaking, chills, coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and chest pain.

Associate Professor Catherine Satzke, Principal Investigator of the study and lead of the Translational Microbiology Group at Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), said "children bear the heaviest burden of pneumococcal pneumonia and are at risk of developing lung empyema, a severe complication that causes pus to form in the lining of the lungs, and is potentially life-threatening."

Professor Sarath Ranganathan, who is a Co-Investigator of the study and leads the Respiratory research group at MCRI, said empyema was challenging to treat.

"To do this, we use surgery or clot-busting drugs as well as antibiotics," he said. "Choosing the right antibiotic is crucial but difficult because it is hard to grow the bacteria that cause empyema."

In Australia, the scheduling of pneumococcal vaccines shifted in 2018 to include a booster dose given at 12 months of age. Recently, the team has developed new ways to detect the bacteria causing empyema so that the right treatment can be started early. By improving the detection of pneumococcus, the commonest bacterial cause of lung empyema, the team will now be able to assess the impact of the new vaccine schedule on empyema.

Associate Professor Satzke said the project would determine the impact of the vaccination schedule change in children hospitalised with pneumococcal empyema.

"Our study provides a rare opportunity to assess the early impact of the vaccine schedule change in near real-time, which will also be relevant to 61 countries including across Africa and Asia that have a high disease burden but do not give a booster dose," she said.   

"We expect the booster dose will increase the duration of protection to better protect children and the wider community through herd protection. This project will help us to better understand empyema and hopefully improve global child health."