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02/07/2013

First U.S. cases of vaccine-resistant whooping cough reported

 

Cough, cough, whhoooooooop - yup, that's the unmistakable sound of whooping cough, also known as pertussis. And the sound has been rattling households across the United States, which saw more than 41,000 cases in 2012 - the country's worst year for pertussis since 1955.

And now, a new twist. In a letter recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, doctors revealed that a new vaccine-resistant strain has been discovered in the U.S. The strain has previously been reported in France, Japan and Finland.

Previous theories suggested that a waning immunity from the pertussis vaccine could be driving the surge in cases. Public health officials will certainly now turn their attention to investigating this new vaccine-resistant strain.

Whooping cough is caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis which invades the upper respiratory system and causes inflammation. And while there is emerging evidence that the vaccine is less effective than previously hoped, it remains the best protection against this extremely-infectious disease.

Pertussis can also be deadly for newborns. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a personal story on their website that drives this point home, featuring a couple that got pregnant after trying for five years only to lose their weeks-old daughter to whooping cough. You can read the story here.

Jennifer Yang is the Toronto Star’s global health reporter. She previously worked as a general assignment reporter and won a NNA in 2011 for her explanatory piece on the Chilean mining disaster. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

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