Whooping Cough is Back

By Judy Feldman on August 8, 2012 4:40 PM EDT

Pertussis
Whooping Cough Returns, Nationwide (Photo: WikiCommons)

The pernicious disease of pertussis, also known as Whooping Cough, was once considered under control. It was nearly eliminated in the United States. But it is back now and with a vengeance. According to the Centers for Disease Control, so far just this year, there have been more than 19,000 cases reported and nine babies have died. And this is more than three times as much as was reported last year at this time, acknowledged Stacey Martin, epimediologist and pertussis subject expert at the CDC, to ISciencetimes.

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Experts estimate that pertussis causes over 300,000 deaths per year, worldwide. 

"It's of epidemic proportions," the CDC's Dr. Tom Clark recently said to NBCNews. "This is the largest number of cases we've seen since the 1950s."  

"Many of the cases are in 10-year-old's who got the whooping cough vaccine as children but haven't yet received the booster shot recommended at age 11," reported NBC News.  Some experts are guessing that the vaccine is not as strong and may not last as long as they once thought it did.  And it is infants who are most at risk.

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that causes upper-respiratory problems. It can be treated with antibiotics but early treatment is very important. The symptoms can be similar to having the flu, and sometimes adults do not seem to get hit so badly. But pertussis commonly affects infants and young children and can be fatal, especially in babies less than 1 year of age. And the trouble is, as stated at a recent conference "Coughing Up the Facts on Pertussis: Emerging Trends in Vaccine Recommendations,  by Stacey Martin, of the Centers Disease Control (CDC) "It is important to note that persons with mild [forms of] the disease can transmit infection and are often the source of infection for very young infants." ...and it is unfortunately babies and infants who are at the greatest risk for disease and even death, especially during the first few months of life when they are too young to be vaccinated.

Pertussis is highly contagious. It can cause severe and debilitating problems for any aged person, but tends to be mild for the adolescents and adults who have been properly and previously vaccinated.

But the insidious aspect is that the trends are now indicating that the vaccine wears off sooner than expected. So you can have a mild case, not be too troubled by it, or even know you have a case of Whooping Cough, but could still infect and endanger others.

According to a recent CDC statistics, pertussis has been increasing since the late 1970s with the greatest increase seen during the last decade.  In 2010, there were 27,000 cases reported. In 2010, California made news by declaring the problem an epidemic.  California had more than 9000 cases reported, and that was the greatest number of cases in 60 years. Iowa, Minnesota, Vermont,  and Wisconsin have also reported particularly high rates of the disease, according to a recent article in the NYTimes.

According to the Dailynews, some eight thousand students in Los Angeles must get the vaccine before they can be allowed to begin school again next week. Said Michael Parra, the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health's Immunization Program, to the DailyNews, "It's particularly important for students to be vaccinated because young people are most susceptible to the disease. Students can also bring the disease home and infect younger siblings, and whooping cough is especially dangerous to infants under the age of three months. In 2010, nine of the 10 Californians to die of whooping cough were infants, four of them in Los Angeles County."

The two vaccines given to prevent pertussis are known as DTaP and Tdap. Infants get the vaccine called DTaP. The DTaP shot (which inoculates against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) is administered to infants at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and then a booster shot is administered at between 15-18 months. Another pre-school booster shot is typically administered between the ages of 4-6. 

Tdap, which was licensed in 2005, is the vaccine that is now recommended for preteens and adults, at 11 to 12 years, explained Stacey Martin to ISciencetimes. It will also be given to any adult who has not previously received it. But currently, Tdap is only licensed as a single lifetime vaccination. That will likely change in the near future, says Martin.

Currently studies are being conducted in California and in  Washington State  to better understand the duration of protection that Tdap offers. The data will be presented at Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, when available.

Pregnant women should get the Tdap, (if they have not yet received it) while they are pregnant, advises Stacey Martin, in the third trimester or late second trimester, if possible. The reason is that the mother can share antibodies with the baby which may give the baby the best protection when they do not yet have the benefit of their own vaccination, and can not get a vaccination until they are older.

 "More studies are needed", added Martin, "but we do think the recommendations will soon change. People are just now getting to the point where we can see if the immunity has worn off."

Due to the alarm about this growing epidemic,  the CDC recommends that all caretakers, especially mothers, or anyone who has not yet received the Tdap, and is close to babies,  should get a whooping cough booster shot, now.

To learn more about Whooping Cough symptoms, diagnosis, and prevention strategies, and for CDC updates, see here.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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