The bacterium Bordetella pertussis causes disease by producing various virulence and adhesion factors, among them pertussis toxin (PT), filamentous hemagglutinin (FHA), pertactin (PRN) and agglutinogens (Agg), also called fimbriae (FIM)
"Typical" pertussis or whooping cough starts with unspecific respiratory symptoms (catarrhal phase) followed by severe coughing spasms with whoops and vomiting (paroxysmal phase) and only after weeks or months disease severity slowly wanes (convalescent phase).
"Atypical pertussis" with unspecific, long-lasting coughing episodes is seen in adolescents and adults; very young infants may die from apnoea.
B. pertussis is transmitted by droplets, and neither infection nor vaccination produce long lasting protection.
Macrolide antibiotics are given to patients and their contacts to reduce spread of the organism; however, antibiotics do NOT change the duration or course of the disease once symptoms are present.
Whole cell pertussis vaccines (wP) consist of whole inactivated B. pertussis-cells, whereas acellular vaccines (aP) consist of one to five single components like PT, FHA, PRN or FIM. Pertussis vaccines are currently only available as combination vaccines with tetanus und diphtheria (DTP). Among these are DTwP; DTaP; TdaP; and various DTP-combinations with Hib, IPV, HBV vaccines.
Whole cell pertussis (DTwP) combination vaccines are more reactogenic, whereas DTaP vaccines are generally well tolerated.
Some DTwP had good efficacy/effectiveness (90%), it was low (40%) with others. Vaccine efficacy of DTaP vaccines ranges between 70% and 90%. As with most vaccines, efficiency is higher for severe disease.
While pertussis vaccines did control clinical disease, protection is limited. Vaccination is recommended for all infants (three doses) worldwide with a booster in the second year of life. Many countries give additional doses at school entry and in adolescents, and some to adults. Vaccination of pregnant women effectively protects newborn infants and is increasingly recommended.