Combating Whooping Cough

With pertussis outbreaks on the rise this year, a timely animal model study provides hope for an antibody treatment.

By Karen Zusi | December 3, 2015

FLICKR, SANOFI PASTEUROutbreaks of whooping cough, or pertussis, occurred in multiple locations worldwide this year at higher rates than in 2014. The Dutch health council recently recommended that pregnant women receive vaccinations in the last three months of their pregnancy—and researchers from Texas have developed antibodies to potentially treat the disease, reported yesterday (December 2) in Science Translational Medicine.

In Clark Country, Washington, local health officials have declared an end to a recent whooping cough outbreak. “Through November, Clark County health officials recorded 345 cases of whooping cough, compared with just 52 cases during the same period last year,” reported The Columbian, though the disease rates are on the decline.

Across the Pacific Ocean, whooping cough outbreaks are ramping up in Australia. “Western Sydney Local Health District has experienced a steady increase in pertussis (whooping cough) notifications since late 2014,” communicable diseases manager Shopna Bag told The Daily Telegraph. Last year, 400 cases of whooping cough were reported in western Sydney—but the area has seen more than 1,200 reports of the disease in 2015. In Europe, the Dutch health council recently recommended that pregnant women be vaccinated against whooping cough in their last trimester, reported Dutch News. The vaccine can help protect infants from transmission before they’re old enough to develop any resistance to the illness.

In cases of severe pertussis, few therapies are effective for infants unless the disease is diagnosed early. But a team led by engineers from the University of Texas has developed a new treatment cocktail in mouse and baboon models. Using two monoclonal mouse antibodies, the cocktail neutralizes the pertussis toxin and prevents harmful aggregation of white blood cells. The treatment worked both before exposure to whooping cough—as a vaccine—and as a treatment for infected animals, helping speed their recovery.

“Most of the babies who get sick haven't been immunized, so we hope to provide the immunity that they are lacking,” study coauthor Jennifer Maynard said in a press release.

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