Leading explanations for whooping cough's resurgence don't stand up to scrutiny


By EEB
Jul 02, 2013 Bookmark and Share

Pej Rohani

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Whooping cough has exploded in the United States and some other developed countries in recent decades, and many experts suspect ineffective childhood vaccines for the alarming resurgence.

Some say the vaccine wears off quicker than public health officials had previously believed. Others suggest that the vaccine protects against illness but does not prevent transmission of the bacterial disease, which is also known as pertussis.

But a U-M-led research team has concluded that neither of these proposed mechanisms for the resurgence of pertussis is supported by the best available evidence. In a study that reviewed 30 years of data from Thailand, they found that vaccines provided long-lived—possibly lifelong—protection against the disease and substantially reduced transmission, as well.

"What we found goes against much of what is currently suspected about pertussis resurgence," said U-M population ecologist and epidemiologist Pejman Rohani. "It's not difficult for us epidemiologists to propose some possible mechanism behind the resurgence, but what's been missing so far is an effort to challenge each of these hypotheses to explain the data. That's exactly what we did."

A paper summarizing the team's findings was  published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences May 20, 2013. The lead author is Julie Blackwood, a postdoctoral research associate in Rohani's lab at the U-M Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Rohani is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, a professor of complex systems and a professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health.

Read more in the U-M News Service press release. Media coverage included Science Daily, Medical Xpress, and more.

In this article:

Blackwood, Julie; Rohani, Pej

Julie Blackwood