Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is on the rise as many areas report increasing numbers of people coming down with this dangerous bacterial infection.
Outbreaks in Minnesota, California, Texas and other states point to a combination of causes, such as complex and changing bacteria, vaccines that aren’t as effective as would be desired and those who neglect to get vaccinated. This includes those who fall behind on their scheduled vaccines, since boosters are required through childhood and into adulthood.
Minnesota saw 4,639 cases of what was either confirmed or suspected to be pertussis. This number has decreased this year, with 657 cases through the end of August. This statistic is still considered a large number, considering the historical rates are much lower, with former peak rates at around 500 cases. Health officials also warned that this year’s rates do not reflect the spikes typical with children returning to school and encourage a cautious approach going into the autumn season.
In 2010, California reported a whopping one-third of all cases for the country, with a final tally of 9,120 cases and 10 deaths. Analysis of the outbreaks indicated that areas with high concentration of vaccine exempt populations were over twice as likely to be found in areas of statistically significant concentrations of pertussis.
Texas has reported over 2,000 cases for this year, meaning that it is likely that by the end of the year Texas could see its largest outbreak of pertussis in five decades.
The general consensus among health officials is that vaccines are the best line of defense on stemming this dangerous tide as pertussis cases continue to rise. People are cautioned to keep in mind that immunity does tend to wane after five to 10 years and boosters are needed, especially for those who will be in close contact with infants and small children.
Infants too young for the vaccine are especially susceptible, but the risk is elevated up to the age of one. Infants are able to receive the vaccine, known as DTaP, at the age of two months, then again at four and six months, 15-18 months and between the ages of four and six years old. Because immunity is built up over a series of shots, infants are at the highest risk and have the highest mortality rate from pertussis.
Rates of the illness being contracted also rise in adolescents, when the effectiveness of the vaccine wears off around the age of 10 or 11 and the children go to school where illnesses are easily communicable.
It is also recommended that boosters are received into adulthood. Women who are pregnant are encouraged to get a vaccine during each pregnancy in order to pass antibodies to their infants, giving them more protection before the baby is able to get their own immunization.
Parents are highly encouraged to follow up on boosters for people who will come in close contact with their infants. Pertussis is highly contagious and is spread through the cough characteristic of the illness. Research has indicated that in up to 80 percent of confirmed cases of pertussis in infants had been contracted from a caregivers, such as parents, grandparents and childcare workers. It is also estimated that around 50 percent of cases were transmitted by the parents.
Like many other illnesses, such as smallpox and polio, vaccines can and do serve a vital purpose in eliminating the disease and sparing many lives. Many health officials are asserting that the controversy and subsequent avoidance of vaccinations is at least partially responsible for the dangerous rise in pertussis seen around the country. They advise that the vaccine for pertussis is the best way to protect loved ones from the dangers of whooping cough.
Written by: Vanessa Blanchard