The Women Who Killed Whooping Cough

Pertussis, also known as the whooping cough is a disease that today is rare and easily cured. This was not always the case however and up until the 1930s there were over 200,000 cases reported every year of whooping cough.

Whooping cough

It mostly affected infants, primarily those under the age of 2. The symptoms of whooping cough were exhibited by rapid and severe coughing followed by a ‘whooping’ sounding inhale, which is how it got it’s nickname.

The disease is airborne, making it highly contagious and arises from the bacteria Bordetella pertussis, which attaches to the lining of an infected persons lungs, causing a painful cough. the disease used to cause massive global problems, killing about 6,000 children every year. This happened until 2 women, Grace Eldering and Pearl Kendrick came together and created the first vaccine for the whooping cough.

The Vaccine

Both Eldering and Kendrick suffered and survived the effects of the whooping cough as infants. As a result of this, they both ended up working in the public health sector. They undertook the quest to find the vaccine following a particularly bad pertussis outbreak in 1932 began. They had to complete all of their research after the usual working hours so the cure for this terrible illness came from a couple of very tired and dedicated women who put hours of their own private time into this project.

they spent every evening after work visiting sick children and collecting ‘cough samples’ on petri dishes to collect the mucous produced during the disease. At the time diagnosis at an early stage was impossible and the first signs of the disease  were only spotted when the symptoms of ‘whooping’ and severe coughing showed. They grew cultures and managed to develop a way of diagnosing the disease within just 3 days of contracting the illness.

they managed to find a good time to quarantine patients  in order to stop the spread and eventually, in October 1935 they presented their findings of a whole cell vaccine to combat the bacteria. It took years of work but we have these 2 fabulous women and their insane dedication to curing this disease to thank for the saving of thousands of lives a year.