We need a new vaccine for evolving whooping cough 'superbug’ bacteria
The bacteria responsible for whooping cough are becoming better at hiding and better at feeding.
Whooping cough bacteria are becoming smarter at colonising and feeding unwanted hosts. This new discovery has raised alarm among scientists for a new vaccine that can stop them. But, first, let's understand more about what exactly is whooping cough.
What is whooping cough?
Whooping cough is also called Pertussis. According to the WHO (World Health Organisation), whooping cough is a disease of the respiratory tract that can be caused by the bacteria living in the mouth, nose and throat.
The symptoms include runny nose, nasal congestion and sneezing and can last four to eight weeks. Until now, the disease has been considered easily avoidable using the vaccine.
It is a highly-contagious bacterial disease dangerous for infants and spreads easily from one child to another through droplets produced by coughing and sneezing.
The disease kills tens of thousands every year. Most vulnerable to the disease are newborn babies (under six months) as they are too young to be vaccinated or have not yet completed the three-dose primary vaccine course.
The new study:
A new research by NSW Sydney (the University of New South Wales) published in “Vaccine” journal mentions that the current vaccine used since 2000 targets three antigens (a toxin or other foreign substance) in the bacteria of the disease.
In a world-first discovery, the study finds that the evolving strains made additional changes to survive in their host regardless of the vaccine status of the person. Researchers have also found new antigens that can be a potential target for the vaccines.
The first author and leader of the study, Dr Laurence Luu says: "Whooping cough’s ability to adapt to vaccines and survival in humans might be the answer to its surprise resurgence despite Australia’s high vaccination rates."
“We found the whooping cough strains were evolving to improve their survival, regardless of whether a person was vaccinated or not, by producing more nutrient-binding and transport proteins, and fewer immunogenic proteins which are not targeted by the vaccine.
“Put simply, the bacteria that cause whooping cough are becoming better at hiding and better at feeding – they're morphing into a superbug.” he added.
The researcher suggests that it might be possible that a person might get contracted with the disease without any evident sign of any symptoms.
The problem with vaccines is that they also reduce immunity. Hence a new vaccine that can provide with longer immunity, stop the transmission and protect against the evolving strains is needed.
Another researcher involved in the study says: “It is critical that people are vaccinated to prevent the spread of whooping cough – the current vaccine is still effective for protecting against the disease – but new vaccines need to be developed in the long-term.”
“We need more research to better understand the biology of the whooping cough bacteria, how they cause disease and what proteins are essential for the bacteria to cause infection so that we can target these proteins in a new and improved vaccine,” he added.
The vaccine is important for the children, people in contact with the children and pregnant women who need the vaccine to produce antibodies to protect their newborns. Elderly people are also at risk of getting infected with the disease.