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Researchers attribute a resurgence of the disease since the 1970s to factors that arose long before the latest vaccines were introduced in the late 1990s. Whooping cough, a respiratory disease also called pertussis, can be fatal to babies.
"Conventional wisdom is that the current vaccine is the problem, but that's not consistent with what we see," said Aaron King. He is an infectious disease ecologist and applied mathematician at the University of Michigan.
King and his colleagues concluded that the return of whooping cough has roots in the mid-20th century. It's due to natural population turnover, incomplete vaccination coverage, and gradually weakening protection from a highly effective but imperfect vaccine, they said.
"This resurgence is the predictable consequence of rolling out a vaccine that isn't quite perfect and not hitting everybody in the population with that vaccine," explained King, who is also a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
Each year, whooping cough claims the lives of 195,000 babies worldwide, mostly in developing nations. In 2016, the United States had 17,972 reported cases, including six infant deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recommends a series of five pertussis shots for children under 7 years of age. Boosters are recommended for older children and for some adults.
The study authors said most cases of whooping cough are spread when infected school-age children cough or sneeze while in close contact with other children.
"The overwhelming amount of transmission is happening in those age groups. So we have to make sure that kids are getting vaccinated before they go to school," King said in a university news release.
The study was published March 28 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
-- Robert Preidt
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