• Outsmarts Vaccines: Evolving Bacteria

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    The bacteria responsible for whooping cough may be evolving into different strains, and the current vaccine can't offer complete protection against these new strains, researchers report.

    In recent years, cases of whooping cough have risen dramatically. Tens of thousands have been sickened, and 18 deaths have been reported, mostly in infants, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Several recent studies have focused on the potential of waning immunity from the whooping cough vaccine over time. In a letter in the Feb. 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers pointed out that there may be another culprit: an evolution in the bug itself.

    The vaccine contains a number of components that help give the body immunity against the whooping cough bacteria (Bordetella pertussis). One of these components is called pertactin.

    Over the past few years, parents of unvaccinated children have been publicly blamed for increasing cases of B. pertussis whooping cough and deaths.

    This despite the fact that even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) admits that the rise in reported whooping cough cases cannot be blamed on unvaccinated children because “they are not the driving force behind the large scale outbreaks and epidemics.”

    Other viruses and bacteria, such as parapertussis and RSV (which are not covered by the vaccine) can also be clinically misdiagnosed as pertussis if proper lab tests are not performed, while many cases of pertussis are never diagnosed by doctors or reported to the CDC.

    Evolving Whooping Cough Bacteria Outsmarts Vaccine

    As reported in the featured article, after 2012 whooping cough outbreaks, researchers turned to genetics to determine the cause.

    The study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, analyzed the genomes of whooping cough bacteria, finding that the “acellular vaccine antigen encoding …

    In the latest study, researchers analysed the genes coding for the proteins on the surface of the pertussis bacterium responsible for the UK outbreak.

    They found proteins being targeted by the vaccine were mutating at a faster rate than other surface proteins not included in the vaccine. Potentially it means the bacteria is changing quickly to get around immune system's defenses put in place with immunization.

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