This discovery may lead to a new approach to suppress meningitis outbreaks.
“It is the first time that anyone has taken a bug — a friendly bacterium — and has shown that it changes the way that you can become colonized by the meningitis bacterium, Neisseria meningitides,” said study author Robert Read from University of Southampton.
Severe forms of meningitis can be life threatening and the first symptoms of the disease are usually fever, vomiting, headache and feeling unwell.
In the study, researchers placed drops containing low doses of Neisseria lactamica, a related but harmless bacterial strain, into the noses of 149 healthy university students in Britain.
The control group for the study included 161 students that received drops of saline instead. Nose swabs were taken at regular intervals over six months and tested for both types of bacteria.
It took as little as two weeks before the effect was seen, with the number of students with N. meningitidis dropped by 9.5 percent compared to those who were received by N. lactamica using the drops. The effected lasted at least four month, researchers added.
The findings were published online in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.