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Research seeks to reduce impact of whooping cough

Research seeks to reduce impact of whooping cough in NZ infants

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris from The University of Auckland has been awarded funding for a research project that will investigate the effectiveness of maternal booster immunisation on the incidence of whooping cough in infants.

The project is being funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the Ministry of Health through the ‘Pertussis booster immunisation in pregnancy’ partnership.

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. It 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.

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

As such, immunisation in pregnancy and post-partum have both been recommended by the Ministry of Health. 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. 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 6 weeks of age.

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.


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