Adults working in close contact with children should be targeted for immunisation against whooping cough, according to research published in the British Journal of General Practice this month.
The study found that 22 per cent of adults with acute persistent cough worked with children or in the health sector and that pertussis – commonly known as whooping cough – was three times more likely to be the cause than in other sub-groups.
A minimally invasive and easy-to-collect oral fluid swab enabled diagnostic testing to distinguish pertussis from other coughing illnesses, according to Dr Kathryn Philipson and Dr Felicity Goodyear-Smith of the University of Auckland who led the research involving 70 children and 156 adults under 50.
Pertussis is a highly contagious infection and frequent cause of acute persistent cough commonly presented by patients visiting their GP. In populations that have received booster immunisations, such as New Zealand where the research was carried out, it is currently difficult to distinguish pertussis from other causes of acute persistent cough.
The research suggests that the oral swab has the potential for greatly increased understanding of pertussis epidemiology and that the test should be widely available in primary care settings. Currently it is only available at the Respiratory and Systemic Infection Laboratory in England.
The researchers recommend that this should be taken into consideration when planning immunisation strategies to protect groups more likely to come into contact with children.
When is acute persistent cough in school-age children and adults whooping cough?, Br J Gen Pract 2013; DOI:10.3399/bjgp13X670705
Kathryn Philipson, Felicity Goodyear-Smith, Cameron C Grant, Angela Chong, Nikki Turner and Joanna Stewart