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Cases of whooping cough on the increase in developed countries

A symposium is to be held in Dublin that will look at why there were 400 cases of whooping cough in Ireland in 2012, double the number than in 2011.

Child coughing
Child coughing

THE INFECTIOUS DISEASE whooping cough has increased significantly over the last few years, with the number of cases in Ireland more than doubling from 2011 to 2012.

According to Trinity College’s Biomedical Sciences Institute, incidences of whooping cough are increasing in developed countries.

Increase in developed countries

Last year in the UK there was 10,000 cases of whooping cough and 10 deaths in infants under children under 3 months old. Meanwhile in the US there were over 41,000 cases. They institute believes that the increase in incidences is related to the fact that protective immunity with the vaccine falls quite quickly, requiring frequent booster vaccinations.

An international symposium is being organised this September by Trinity College’s Professor of Experimental Immunology, Kingston Mills, which aims to explore why there has been a significant rise and to discuss proposals for developing an improved vaccine.

New vaccine

Professor Kingston Mills’ research team at the School of Biochemistry and Immunology discovered earlier this year that the vaccine that is currently used to treat whooping cough, which contains a component called an adjuvant to boost immune responses, could be improved if another adjuvant were to be used. It is hoped that this discovery could help improve the vaccine against whooping cough.

Professor Mills said the meeting of some of the world’s cutting-edge scientists in Ireland “will provide an ideal forum for scientists, clinicians, healthcare officials and industry to discuss the recent outbreaks of whooping cough and how research in basic science may help to provide a better vaccine”.

A vaccine for whooping cough was first introduced in the 1940s. However, side effects associated with the use of this vaccine led to the development of a new ‘cleaner’ vaccine made from distinct components of the bacteria.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie Professor Mills said that when the vaccines were introduced people believed it would bring an end to this disease, “but this is not the case,” he said.

“The vaccine we had over 50 years ago was very effective, but it did have side effects, which is why a cleaner one was developed. However, now there are concerns that the type of immunity it gives might not be as good. How long you remain immune to the disease is of concern,” said Professor Mills.

He said the steps that might be taken in tackling this problem is developing a new vaccine. The only issue is this might have to be given separately to other child vaccines, which strategically could be difficult, said Professor Mills.

Another option scientists are considering is if a booster vaccine can be given to adolescents and adults, so as to stop the spread of whooping cough in these age groups, which in turn could prevent the bacteria being spread to the younger children, which is the group most at risk.

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