Researchers from the University of NSW in Australia say the whooping cough vaccine commonly used to immunize against the disease may have actually bred a more evolved strain of the illness.
The current vaccine works by locating a protein called pertactin – one of the key elements of the disease. But the university study showed that about 80% of Australian whooping cough cases in 2012 were pertactin-free. Researchers say the vaccine has conditioned people’s immune systems to seek and attack the bacteria that contain pertactin, which makes it more difficult for those antibodies to identify the bacteria that don’t.
And as it turns out, these unique cases are not isolated to Australia. Pertactin-free cases of whooping cough have also been reported in France and the United States.
Fortunately, researchers say there’s no current evidence to suggest the new strain is deadlier. It is also unclear whether the new strain reduces the effectiveness of the vaccine and, if so, for how long.
The disease can also be especially dangerous for babies and may cause feeding or breathing difficulties, pneumonia, brain damage or death.