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J Clin Microbiol. 2009 Mar;47(3):680-8. doi: 10.1128/JCM.01838-08. Epub 2009 Jan 21.

Changes in genetic diversity of the Bordetella pertussis population in the United Kingdom between 1920 and 2006 reflect vaccination coverage and emergence of a single dominant clonal type.

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Respiratory and Systemic Infection Laboratory, Health Protection Agency Centre for Infections, 61 Colindale Avenue, London NW9 5EQ, United Kingdom.


Pertussis (whooping cough) is a potentially fatal respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Despite effective vaccination programs, there has been concern in some developed countries that pertussis cases are on the increase. We characterized 703 clinical B. pertussis isolates collected in the United Kingdom between 1920 and 2006 using multilocus variable-number tandem repeat analysis (MLVA), pertactin (prnA) and pertussis toxin (ptxA) genotyping, and serotyping. The results showed that the genetic diversity of the bacterial population decreased during periods of high vaccine coverage. However, it was elevated between 1977 and 1986, when vaccine coverage in the United Kingdom was low and epidemics occurred. A high proportion of MLVA types during this epidemic period were novel, and the prnA(2) and prnA(3) alleles were seen for the first time in the United Kingdom. MLVA-27 appeared in 1982, was codominant during the 1998-to-2001 period, and comprised approximately 70% of isolates during both the 2002-to-2004 and the 2005-to-2006 periods. The United Kingdom is dominated currently by an MLVA-27 prnA(2) ptxA(1) serotype Fim3 clonal type. Even during recent periods dominated by MLVA-27, many novel types were found at low frequencies, suggesting that either there are a large number of uncommon MLVA types circulating at low frequencies or new types are constantly arising. This supports a hypothesis that MLVA-27 is under some form of positive selection conferring increased survival in a highly vaccinated population. There has been no significant change to the bacterial population in the first 2 years since the United Kingdom switched from a whole-cell to an acellular vaccine.

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