Whooping cough is fighting back.

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Researchers discover how whooping cough is evolving paving the way to a new vaccine.

Laurence Luu, The University of New South Wales

Whooping cough strains are adapting to better infect humans, a team of Sydney researchers has found.

The scientists, led by microbiologist Dr Laurence Luu of the University of New South Wales, may have solved the mystery of why, despite widespread vaccinations, the respiratory disease has been resurgent in Australia across the past decade. There have been more than 200,000 cases recorded during the period.

Laurence and colleagues examined proteins produced by current whooping cough strains and discovered that they had evolved to become less visible to the immune system while at the same time increasing their ability to scavenge nutrients.

“The bacteria that causes the disease is becoming better at hiding and better at feeding,” he explains.

The discovery helps to explain how whooping cough is re-emerging, even though vaccination levels are very high.

“We know that whooping cough is adapting to the vaccine but now we also see that it is evolving to survive in humans better regardless of vaccination status,” says Laurence.

“This makes prevention with vaccines even more important.”

He stresses that available vaccines will still be effective at preventing the disease at the moment – but new ones will need to be developed in the long-term.

Peer reviewed publications:

Luu, L.D.W., Octavia, S., Aitken, C., Zhong, L., Raftery, M.J., Sintchenko, V. and Lan, R., 2019. Surfaceome analysis of Australian epidemic Bordetella pertussis reveals potential vaccine antigens. Vaccine. [Epub ahead of print] https://doi.org/10.1016/j.vaccine.2019.10.062

Luu LDW, Octavia S, Zhong L, Raftery MJ, Sintchenko V, Lan R. Proteomic Adaptation of Australian Epidemic Bordetella pertussis. Proteomics. 2018;18:1700237. https://doi.org/10.1002/pmic.201700237

Luu LDW, Octavia S, Zhong L, Raftery MJ, Sintchenko V, Lan R. Comparison of the whole cell proteome and secretome of epidemic Bordetella pertussis strains from the 2008-2012 Australian epidemic under sulfate modulating conditions. Frontiers in Microbiology. 2018;9:2851. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.02851