Whooping cough may be evolving to resist vaccinations. That would be bad.
Analysis of strains from 2012 shows the parts of the pertussis bacterium that the vaccine primes the immune system to recognise are changing.
It may have “serious consequences” in future outbreaks, UK researchers state in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
But experts stressed the vaccine remains highly effective in protecting the most vulnerable young babies.
There has been a global resurgence of whooping cough in recent years.
In 2012, there were almost 10,000 confirmed cases in England and Wales – a dramatic increase from the last “peak” of 900 cases in 2008.
The outbreak led to 14 deaths in babies under three months of age – the group who are most vulnerable to infection.
The BBC doesn’t make clear whether researchers think that dramatic increase is due to the new resistance as well as or rather than reduced rates of vaccination. I guess I should read the Journal of Infectious Diseases to find out.
Prof Adam Finn, a paediatric immunology expert at the University of Bristol said the importance – or not – of the subtle changes found in the study was as yet unclear.
“But the control of pertussis is a significant worry,” he added.
Only 60% of pregnant women have had the pertussis vaccine and we should be doing more to raise awareness of its benefits, he said.
“There is very good new evidence that vaccinating pregnant women protects their babies. And the group we really want to protect is newborn babies,” he said.
Because pertussis can kill newborn babies all too easily.