New Whooping Cough Vaccine Causing Faster Virus Evolution

January 6, 2015

Nurse with needle syringeSome cities have daily headlines about how severe the whooping cough epidemic is, if you’re not familiar, let me catch you up!

In the early 90s, a change was made to the vaccine for pertussis. Instead of using the whole virus, the vaccine just uses certain markers from the surface of the virus. The benefit is fewer side-effects, but there are two intense drawbacks: the vaccine doesn’t confer immunity for very long, leading teens and adults to be susceptible, and new studies are revealing that the virus is mutating against the vaccine (specifically, the parts of the virus’ surface in the vaccine are changing).

This brings us to the growing whooping cough epidemic. Although initially pinned on anti-vaxxers, it’s clear now that the biggest problem is the vaccine.

Babies (and sometimes the very old), are most at risk for pertussis, also called whooping cough. When a small child gets pertussis, the nickname becomes clear: they cough so hard, all the air is expelled, sometimes turning them blue, and then air is sucked back in in a “whooop” sound. But when adults get whooping cough, their strong immune systems keep symptoms much more mild, and most don’t suspect anything more than the common cold.

So it becomes easy to spread whooping cough, from adults who may have once been vaccinated, to young kids (or, most dangerously, newborns, since they have no vaccinations and a brand new immune system).

Between 2008 and 2012, in just those 4 years, whooping cough rates shot up MORE than TEN times what they were (and that’s mainly following children; remember, most adults don’t suffer badly enough to warrant a doctor’s visit!).

Those following the cycles of pertussis say we should expect another big uptick at the end of 2015. What’s to be done? Well, we could go back to the old whole cell vaccine, readjust the current vaccine, etc.

Despite it’s weaknesses, authorities still emphasize that getting the vaccine is better than nothing, and other studies have shown that when pregnant women are vaccinated they pass some of that immunity to their newborns (the group most worried about).

Everyone else should just support their immune system. A stronger immune system means fewer symptoms. And, of course, stay home when you’re sick. You’ll get better faster, and avoid passing the illness around!

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