A NEW variety of whooping cough that remains unchecked by vaccination, together with better techniques for identification of the disease, could be responsible for the recent epidemic, according to a new report.
"The report shows there is a change in the variety of whooping cough bacteria that is causing the disease," said Northern NSW director of public health Paul Corben.
"It is circumstantial, but the change may be linked to the larger number of cases of the disease across Australia and the rest of the world."
Findings from the report, led by researchers at the University of NSW, suggest that while the current vaccination remains effective against most forms of whooping cough, its use could be contributing to the emergence of new and potentially more dangerous clones.
The report could have important implications for the treatment of whooping cough. It could mean developing a new vaccine, or changing back to use a combination of an older-style of vaccination that help protect the body against a broader range of the disease.
It could also mean re-arranging vaccination schedule so babies are vaccinated at birth, he said.
It is also possible that the increase in whooping cough cases is a result of better techniques to test if patients have the disease, rather than a greater actual incidence of the disease.
"The old test was invasive, it involved taking blood and tested for the body's reaction to the disease. Now we can test directly for the whooping cough bacteria with a nose or throat swab," Mr Corben said.
"In the northern area health region all doctors are particularly on the lookout for the disease and are encouraged to test for it.
"The new strain of whooping cough that appears to be more resilient to vaccination does potentially undermine the immunisation process.
"But it was still the case that the vaccine in use is the best we have and vaccination is still the best way to protect against the disease, particularly in young children.
"The northern NSW area, from the Clarence to the Tweed was known for its low vaccination rates and it continually had above average rates of the disease.
"Over the past five years the rate in northern NSW was 41% above the state average and over the past decade it was 25% higher. Byron Bay and Lismore had low vaccination rates."
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.