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Local Doctor Weighs in on Alarming Whooping Cough Numbers

Saturday, July 21, 2012

 

The Centers for Disease Control say America is headed for its worst year for whooping cough in over five decades.

With 18,000 cases being reported so far this year, more than double last year's numbers at this point, officials are expecting the most cases of whooping cough in a calendar year since 1959.

The Worcester area has seen six incidences of whooping cough thus far in 2012.

The Worcester Division of Public Health encourages routine immunization per Advisory Committee for Immunization Practice (ACIP) guidelines for children. In addition, they encourage adults and providers who have not received one dose of Tdap Vaccine (Combined Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis) to do so.

Children are vaccinated against whooping cough in five does, beginning at age 2. After the vaccine was introduced in the 1940s, cases of the illness fell from the hundreds of thousands to just around 5,000 annually, but, incidents of whooping cough have been rising since the 1990s.

To give you more information on whooping cough, and how to protect yourself and your children, GoLocalWorcester reached out to Dr. Christina Hermos of UMass Memorial Children's Medical Center.

Christina Hermos, MD, MS
Division of Pediatric Immunology and Infectious Diseases
UMass Memorial Children's Medical Center

GoLocal: What, exactly, is whooping cough?

Hermos: Whooping cough is a respiratory illness caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis (so it is also known as "pertussis"). It often starts with cold-like symptoms and after 1-2 weeks progresses to severe cough for 2-6 weeks. The cough can be so severe that breathing in during the cough can cause the classic whooping sound. In infants, pertussis may present differently such as not breathing suddenly.

GoLocal: We're on our way to the worst year for whooping cough in the last 50 years, why?

Hermos: Too many people are not up to date on their pertussis vaccine, and too many parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children. The vaccine is very effective but not 100%, therefore, the small population of unvaccinated people can put many others at risk, even those who have been vaccinated.

Vaccinated people won't become as ill if they become infected, but they can spread the infection to others, such as infants, who can become very ill. We know that vaccines are incredibly important because the incidence of pertussis in states with higher vaccine rates (like Massachusetts) is much lower than states with lower vaccine rates (such as Washington state which has already seen over 2,500 pertussis cases so far in 2012).

GoLocal: Who is most at risk?

Hermos: Those at highest risk for getting pertussis are unvaccinated people and infants who have not yet received vaccines. Teenagers are also at higher risk if they have not received their booster vaccine (recommended at age 11).

The efficacy of the vaccine does wane over time. Those at highest risk of having severe disease resulting in hospitalization and death are children under 1 year of age. These children typically get pertussis from caregivers or older siblings, which is why vaccines are so important for all children and adults.

GoLocal: Why is the vaccine so critical?

Hermos: It is also important to know that the vaccine is safe and approved in pregnancy after 20 weeks. When moms are vaccinated they a) are less likely to spread pertussis to their infant and b) can pass on protection to the baby during those early months before the baby get his or her own vaccine. Dads, other care givers and siblings also should also be up to date with pertussis vaccine to protect the infant. 

 

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