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Whooping cough study wins top research award

6 June 2007

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A study urging doctors to be more alert to the signs of whooping cough in school-age children has won the 2006 Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP)/Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited (MSD) Research Paper of the Year Award. The authors will be presented with a cheque for £1000 at the RCGP today (6 June).
Led by Dr Anthony Harnden FRCGP, a GP and lecturer at Oxford University, the study took blood samples from 172 children aged 5–16 years in the Oxfordshire area who had previously presented to their GP with a persistent cough lasting 14 days or more.
The study found that of these 172 participants, 64 had evidence of a recent Bordetella pertussis infection, the bacterium that causes whooping cough. 85.9% of these (55) had been fully immunised against whooping cough, although immunisation or infection do not guarantee lifelong immunity.
The authors of the study noted that whooping cough is often an infection commonly associated with very young children presenting with the trademark “whoop”. They concluded that GPs should consider diagnosing more school-age children presenting with a cough lasting more than two weeks as whooping cough sufferers.
Although there is little evidence of the efficacy of prescribing drugs for whooping cough after the infection has been contracted two weeks previously, diagnosis would give children and parents an idea of the duration of the cough and prevent inappropriate investigations and treatment.
Over 30 academic papers were submitted for in-depth discussion by the panel of assessors chaired by Professor Greg Rubin. The winning study was chosen because of the clarity, rigour and relevance for all practitioners, with clear presentation coupled with commendable transparency about methods and findings. 
Professor Greg Rubin said: “This study addresses a problem encountered in general practice on a daily basis, that of the child with a cough.”
The RCGP/Merck Sharp & Dohme Limited Research Paper of the Year Award is designed to raise the profile of research in general practice and give recognition to an individual or group of researchers who have undertaken and published an exceptional piece of research relating to general practice.