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Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is still an important cause of persistent cough among school age children whose cough is sufficiently severe to trigger a visit to their GP, according to National Institute for Health Research School for Primary Care Research (NIHR SPCR) researcher Dr Kay Wang.

Dr Kay Wang, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford
Dr Kay Wang, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford

The main aim of vaccination is to prevent transmission of pertussis to unvaccinated infants, in whom pertussis can lead to serious complications.  However, an adolescent pertussis booster vaccination may also be worthwhile if the burden of pertussis in older age groups is sufficiently high.  Adolescent pertussis booster vaccinations have already been introduced in several countries, including the United States and Australia, but not so far in the UK.

Before the pre-school pertussis booster vaccination was introduced in the UK in 2001, evidence of recent pertussis infection could be found in nearly two-fifths of school age children who presented in primary care with a persistent cough.

Kay Wang's study aimed to find out whether pertussis is still an important cause of persistent cough among school age children even after the introduction of the pre-school booster. After recruiting 279 children between the ages of five and 15 years  from 22 general practices across the Thames Valley, evidence of recent pertussis infection was found in 56 children (20%), including 39 out of 215 children (18%) who had been fully vaccinated against pertussis. 

These findings will help inform ongoing discussions about whether an adolescent pertussis booster vaccination should be introduced in the UK. Kay’s study has been published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ 2014;348:g3668) this month. View the BMJ video abstract here.

The story has been covered in Medical News Today, the Daily Mail, Pulse and The Independent.

Kay also published a paper on 'Montelukast for post-infectious cough in adults: a double-blind randomised placebo-controlled trial' in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine in December 2013. One quarter of the adults who took part in this trial had laboratory confirmed pertussis.