Pertussis: History of the Disease and Current Prevention Failure

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2016:934:77-82. doi: 10.1007/5584_2016_21.


Pertussis or whooping cough has been given many names over the centuries. It was first recognized in the Middle Ages and since then various epidemics have been described. Jules Bordet and Octave Gengou isolated Bordetella pertussis, a causative agent for whooping cough, in Paris more than 100 years ago, which created an excellent opportunity to invent a vaccine. In 1914 the whole-cell pertussis vaccine was invented, then in the 1940s it was combined with tetanus and diphtheria toxoids to become DTP and it became widely available. A successive decrease in the incidence of the disease has since been observed. The vaccine has been about 80 % effective in preventing serious disease and death from pertussis. The disadvantage is that the vaccine offers protection for 5-10 years after the last dose of the full vaccination course. The second issue is the question of how to prevent side effects of the whole-cell vaccine. In the 1990s, the acellular vaccine was introduced in the US and gradually replaced the whole-cell vaccine. About 10 years later, a possible failure with the new vaccine has been observed, that is a lack of long-term protection. Nowadays, both vaccines are used, with the acellular vaccine being vastly predominant in most developed countries. Pertussis incidence has increased since the 1980s, but new prevention strategies include booster doses for specific age groups.

Keywords: Immunization; Infection; Pertussis vaccine; Prevention; Prophylaxis; Whooping cough.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bordetella pertussis*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Immunization, Secondary / methods*
  • Incidence
  • Pertussis Vaccine / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Whooping Cough / epidemiology
  • Whooping Cough / history
  • Whooping Cough / prevention & control*


  • Pertussis Vaccine