The number of cases of whooping cough in the US may reach a record high this year, says the most recent Center for Disease and Control Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Incidence Report. Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, says that many states are seeing higher than expected numbers of cases of whooping cough or pertussis. Almost 18,000 cases have been reported as of Thursday and nine infants have died from the disease.
Indeed, Schuchat notes that “We may need to go back to 1959 to find as many cases reported” halfway through the year, says USA Today.
Young Children Most At Risk
Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial disease that is extremely dangerous for babies and children; half of the infants who contract the disease require hospitalization. Indeed, those twelve months and under have the highest rates of infection, with half of cases occurring in those under three months. The reason: Babies are still too young to be protected by the first vaccination which is typically given at two months.
Young children can be protected if their mothers and those around them are vaccinated. But right now, too few adults (only 8.2 percent) are vaccinated.
Vaccine’s Protection Lessens Over Times
The pertussis vaccine is delivered in five doses with the last shot given when children are aged 4 to 6. But the vaccine’s protection wanes over time. A booster shot is now recommended at age 11 as health officials have noted increases of whooping cough in children aged 10 to 14. USA Today gives the background for the change in the vaccine:
Unproved and unscientific claims that there was a connection between the pertussis vaccine and brain injury pushed manufacturers to switch to another safer version, acellular pertussis vaccine. It has been used in the USA since 1997.
Health officials see some evidence that its effectiveness may wane more quickly than the previous form, contributing to a rise in whooping cough cases among children ages 10 to 14.
The uptick in infections in that age group is “different than what we’ve seen in previous waves,” Schuchat said. “That’s why we’re recommending a booster at 11 or 12.”
The vaccine is not 100% effective, but unvaccinated children are eight times more likely to be infected, Schuchat said.
Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, simply says that the newer pertussis vaccine has turned out to be “less effective than everybody thought it was.” Accordingly, there has also been a “reservoir of cases in high school and college students,” especially as schools (and college dormitories) are a “fertile breeding ground” for disease.
Siegel suggests that the best way to prevent whooping cough is a revaccination campaign, with people getting the vaccine every ten years.
For those who are wary of getting too many vaccines, consider what has happened in Washington state. Between January and June, more than 2,500 cases of whooping cough (a 1,300 percent increase) were reported and even more are likely, as many cases go unreported and are even unidentified. The year isn’t even over yet but the CDC is saying that nothing less than a whooping cough epidemic is occurring in Washington.
Make sure your children are vaccinated for whooping cough and, if you are going to be in frequent contact with children, consider the pertussis vaccine.
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