Whooping cough, also called pertussis, is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis, which is increasing in developed countries including Ireland.
Whooping cough can be controlled by vaccination and a vaccine composed of whole bacteria was first introduced in the 1940s. However, side effects associated with the use of this whole cell pertussis vaccine led to the development of a new ‘cleaner’ vaccine made from distinct components of the bacteria. The new vaccine, called the acellular pertussis vaccine, was introduced to the routine vaccination schedule for infants and children in Ireland and other developed countries in the mid 1990s. The new vaccine has proved to be very safe and has been effective in controlling the potentially fatal disease.
However, in the last few years the incidence of whooping cough has increased significantly, not only in infants but also in adolescent and adults. In 2012, there were over 400 cases of whooping cough in Ireland, double the number in 2011[i]. In 2012, the UK had nearly 10,000 cases and 10 deaths in infants under 3 months[ii], while in the US there were over 41,000 cases[iii]. It appears that the increased incidence is related to the fact that protective immunity conferred with the vaccine falls quite quickly, necessitating frequent booster vaccinations.
The international symposium, being organised by Professor of Experimental Immunology, Kingston Mills, in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College, will bring together scientists performing cutting-edge basic research on the genetics, pathogenesis and immunology of B. pertussis, physicians working on epidemiology and clinical aspects of pertussis, government agencies, such as the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC), and representatives of the major vaccine manufacturing pharmaceutical companies.
A major goal of the conference will be to try to explain and respond to the increased incidence of whooping cough in children and adults and discuss proposals for developing an improved vaccine, according to Professor Mills.
“This meeting 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. It is a great honour to have been asked to organise this major meeting at Trinity College and a great opportunity for us to showcase Irish researchers’ involvement in an area of international medical importance.”
Earlier this year Professor Kingston Mills’ research team at the School of Biochemistry and Immunology made novel discoveries concerning the current vaccine against whooping cough, which should pave the way for an improved vaccine against whooping cough.
Most vaccines include a component called an adjuvant to boost immune responses to the bacterial or viral antigens in the vaccine and the acellular pertussis vaccine uses an aluminium salt, called alum. However, the research team have shown that the vaccine could be improved further through the use of a different adjuvant.
[ii] Health Protection Agency (HPA)
[iii] Centre For Diseases Control (CDC)