Funding for whooping cough research

15 April 2014

The effectiveness of maternal booster immunisation on the incidence of whooping cough in infants will be investigated by researchers at the University of Auckland.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris

Lead researcher, Dr Helen Petousis-Harris from the University’s School of Population Health has a research project funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the Ministry of Health through the ‘Pertussis booster immunisation in pregnancy’ partnership.

Dr Petousis-Harris and her research team will investigate the effectiveness of providing pregnant women a dose of whooping cough booster vaccine to prevent or lessen the disease in their infants.

The study will use data for all births between 2011–2013, all infants who were diagnosed with whooping cough and whether or not their mothers received the vaccine in pregnancy. Knowledge from this research will help inform the New Zealand immunisation programme and will contribute to the control of whooping cough.

Transfer of antibodies through the placenta in pregnancy is expected to offer some passive protection until the infant is protected by childhood immunisation, which starts at six weeks of age.

Whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is a highly infectious disease that is transmitted by coughing and sneezing. Pertussis can affect all age groups; however, it is most common in children.

Despite the immunisation against pertussis, whooping cough remains a disease difficult to control in the general population and outbreaks continue to occur.

The disease can be especially severe in infants under 12 months, leading to pneumonia, breathing problems, and in rare cases, brain damage, convulsions and death. Infants too young to vaccinate are particularly vulnerable.

Immunisation in pregnancy and post-partum have both been recommended by the Ministry of Health and from 1 January 2013, pregnant women between 28 and 38 weeks gestation have been able to receive a whooping cough booster vaccination for free during outbreaks.

The one-year $104,142 project will include researchers Professor Felicity Goodyear-Smith (Head of the University’s Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care) and epidemiologist, Dr Sarah Radke.  Others involved in the study are Tracey Poole and Dr Nikki Turner (from the University’s Immunisation Advisory Centre) and Dr Tony Walls (from Paediatric Infectious Diseases, Canterbury DHB).

There is also a broader team working on a larger programme of pertussis research including the safety of pertussis vaccine in pregnancy and the impact of the pertussis childhood vaccination programme in NZ.

See more on this research at this link

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