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Pathogenesis and histopathology of pertussis: implications for immunization


Pertussis is a unique infectious disease in that it can be severe and fatal but occurs without fever and other evidence of an inflammatory illness. The authors with others have studied the histopathology of fatal pertussis and also the unique characteristics of severe pertussis in young infants. Histopathologic observations from approximately 100 years ago, and from recent evaluation, indicate that the histopathologic changes of the upper respiratory tract of patients with fatal pertussis are often relatively normal unless there is a secondary bacterial infection. Bordetella pertussis contains many protein antigens and perhaps a polysaccharide capsule which contribute to the infectious process. However, only two of these antigens contribute to clinical illness. These antigens are pertussis toxin and the yet to be identified 'cough toxin'. The authors speculate as to the nature of the 'cough toxin' and discuss the implications of their observations and concepts for the future control of pertussis.

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