Current pertussis research is being conducted in several important areas. The goal of much of this research is to determine why the incidence of whooping cough has recently increased in vaccinated populations and the disease has remained so prevalent throughout the world in spite of widespread immunization.
Studies have shown that there may be several reasons for the increased prevalence of pertussis in adolescents and adults, who then spread the disease to infants and young children. Possible reasons include the following:
- Immunity from vaccines that is not life-long and fades over time
- Improvements in disease surveillance and reporting
- Increased awareness of whooping cough and better diagnostic methods
- Ineffective forms of the vaccine, possibly caused by changes in Bordetella pertussis bacteria
Ongoing pertussis studies and clinical trials are focused on developing more effective vaccines (e.g., new acellular pertussis vaccines). Other research is being conducted to determine whether pertussis vaccines may be associated with medical conditions, such as encephalopathy, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and autism. This association has been suggested by some studies and refuted by others and has not been proven at this time.