An experimental whooping cough booster shot called Boostrix may help stamp out the infection, a new study shows.

If approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Boostrix (search) could be added to a booster shot, which boosts the immune system’s protection against diphtheria (search) and tetanus (search).

In a clinical trial of more than 4,000 healthy youth aged 10-18, Boostrix was as safe and effective as the current diphtheria vaccine. It also triggered a greater immune response against whooping cough than that seen in infants who had received the primary immunization for diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis and were protected against pertussis. The vaccine’s maker, GlaxoSmithKline, conducted the study. The company is also a WebMD sponsor.

Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) are bacterial infections that cause serious illness. Vaccination, given as a series of injections during childhood, helps protect against these illnesses. But older children, adolescents, and adults still require boosters of protection against these illnesses. These boosters are given at ages 11-12 and every 10 years for diphtheria and tetanus.

However many people may be surprised to learn that whooping cough can be a problem for adolescents.

The current vaccine recommendations call for the pertussis vaccine (search) to be given to children in a series of five doses, ending by age 6. However, results usually last about five to10 years after the last dose is given, which can leave teens vulnerable.

Leonard Friedland, MD, of GlaxoSmithKline, and colleagues reported their findings in Washington, at the 44th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

In the last 20 years, whooping cough diagnoses have nearly tripled, despite the fact that more babies and young children are getting the pertussis vaccine. Better diagnostic methods may partially account for the increase, but a rise in cases among adolescents and young adults has also occurred.

Whooping cough is usually not a life-threatening illness in teens and young adults. However, its symptoms can last for months, interrupting daily life, and threatening to infect other people.

The highly contagious infection can cause severe coughing spasms that sometimes make it difficult to eat, speak, or breathe.

In 2003, there were 11,000 cases of whooping cough reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the highest number in nearly 40 years, according to a GlaxoSmithKline news release. Of those 11,000 cases, 40% occurred in people aged 10-19, according to the CDC.

By  Miranda Hitti, reviewed by  Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: 44th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Washington, D.C., Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2004. News release, GlaxoSmithKline.