Whooping Cough Is Back!

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease which is known by its more common name, whooping cough. The name comes from the whooping sound made while coughing. Whooping cough is spread easily through the air. A person can spread the infection up to three feet through drops that spew out while coughing. The illness has an incubation period of seven to ten days and initially presents as a cold. Initial symptoms may include a runny nose, low grade fever, congestion, and a mild cough. Within one to two weeks a violent, uncontrollable cough develops and can last for several months. Frequently, whooping cough goes undiagnosed because of these early cold-like symptoms. Additionally, most infants do not develop a cough, making it even harder to diagnose in babies.

Infants experience the most severe complications, including pneumonia, convulsions, or, in rare cases, brain damage. While it can attack a person of any age, infants are the most vulnerable since they have not been vaccinated against the disease. Typically, vaccinations are administered in five separate doses which begin at two months and end between the ages of four to six. A booster shot is recommended at age eleven.

However, health officials are wondering if a booster shot at age eleven is sufficient. The number of cases diagnosed in children between the ages of seven to ten who actually received their vaccinations has forced health officials to take a look at vaccination protocols. Questions have been raised concerning the longevity of the vaccination series. Furthermore, in 1997 a new acellular pertussis vaccine which produced fewer serious side effects was approved to replace the whole cell vaccine that had been used since the 1940s. Vaccination protocols for pertussis may have to be revised if studies find that the vaccines are not as potent as thought.

There is also a misconception that all children must be vaccinated in order to attend public school. There are three reasons a parent can use to exempt their child from immunization requirements: medical conditions, philosophical beliefs, or religious beliefs. All states will grant exemptions for medical conditions. However, only some states offer exemptions due to religious or philosophical beliefs. California, who accepts all three exemptions, is experiencing their worst whooping cough crisis in six decades. In 2010, California reported 6,700 cases of whooping cough and ten infant deaths. States across the nation are seeing an increase in whooping cough cases. There appears to be a correlation between the number of exemptions a state accepts and the number of whooping cough cases reported.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), teenagers are the source of 39% of infections nation-wide. This is because teens are frequently misdiagnosed with other respiratory illnesses like bronchitis or sinus infections. The CDC recommends all people ages 11-64 get a booster shot to protect against spreading infection to younger children who may not be fully immunized. You can hear what whooping cough sounds like by going to the Utah Bureau of Epidemiology’s web site at http://health.utah.gov/epi/diseases/pertussis/pertussis_sounds.htm.

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