Magazine article Science News

New Pertussis Vaccines Safer, More Effective

Magazine article Science News

New Pertussis Vaccines Safer, More Effective

Article excerpt

The ritual of fretful parents fussing over feverish infants after childhood vaccinations may soon be history. Two studies demonstrate that a new generation of whooping cough (pertussis) vaccines is both safer and more effective than the vaccine now used in the United States.

In studies of 15,000 infants in Italy and 10,000 infants in Sweden, the new pertussis vaccines provided better protection and caused fewer and milder side effects. "This is truly an effective vaccine," announced Anthony S. Fauci at a press conference in Bethesda, Md., last week. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which cosponsored the vaccine trials. The U.S. Public Health Service hopes to expedite approval of the new vaccines, perhaps in 6 months.

Pertussis is an extremely contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. It causes violent spells of coughing, vomiting, and inability to breathe. Gasping for breath between coughing spells creates the "whooping" sound characteristic of the disease. Pertussis may lead to pneumonia and neurological damage.

Worldwide, more than 50 million people contract pertussis every year, and more than 350,000 die--primarily infants. In the United States, mandatory vaccination at 2, 4, 6, and 18 months, with a booster at age 4 to 6, has lowered the number of infections from 160,000 in 1947 to fewer than 5,000 in 1994.

But pertussis vaccination carries some risk. Current vaccines used in the United States contain whole, but inactive, bacteria that cause fever, swelling, fussiness, and--very rarely--neurological damage (SN: 7/30/88, p. …

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