Pertussis control: where to now?

Peter B McIntyre and Terence M Nolan
Med J Aust 2014; 200 (6): 306-307. || doi: 10.5694/mja14.00234

Improving protection against pertussis requires sorting the facts from the artefacts

Pertussis is a disease of significant morbidity and, in infants, mortality. Regrettably, even though there is greater than 20-fold reduction in pertussis burden with immunisation,1 it persists globally as a significant public health problem. For more than two decades, Australia has had the highest reported rates of pertussis in the world.2 In the 1990s, this was driven by the introduction of mandatory reporting by laboratories of positive test results for vaccine-preventable diseases to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System and extensive use of serological tests for diagnosis, primarily in adults.3 Unlike many other countries, all positive test results in Australia are included in national data. Also, testing for pertussis by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has qualified for reimbursement since 2008, after which a sevenfold increase in testing of children in general practice was documented.4 Pertussis epidemics occurred sequentially across Australia from 2008 to 2012 and, unlike previous epidemics, the highest notification rates were for children under 10 years of age. This raises the question of whether Australia’s “pertussis problem” is related to vaccines with poor effectiveness or is an artefact of testing.

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  • Peter B McIntyre1
  • Terence M Nolan2

  • 1 National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC.


Competing interests:

We are principal investigators in a study of birth-dose pertussis vaccination which has been partly funded by GlaxoSmithKline.

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