This year in the United States there have been more cases of whooping-cough than in any time in the last 60 years. This is the shocking news, reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. Almost 42,000 cases in 2012 is a new peak wave of a disease that does come in waves and troughs over several years.
The final number of sufferers will be larger but will not exceed the previous peak of 63 thousand back in 1955. More positive news on whooping-cough, is that we are treating it better, since the death rate from it is not rising. 18 deaths, 15 of them were infants, was the mortality rate in 2012. The main reason for the declining mortality rate is probably that outbreaks are identified more quickly and cases identified and treated with antibiotics, much earlier.
In 2011 there was a national campaign to immunize pregnant women in the unproven belief that the immunity would pass on to the unborn infants. This may have contributed to the lower mortality rate too. Whooping cough epidemics can come about very rapidly. It is a condition that does not discriminate in terms of age but is most threatening to the very young. It is all in the name, which is the heart-rending sound that children make when at their worst, and unable to breathe. Epidemics have gradually become smaller and fewer after the development of an effective vaccine, 70 years ago.
Whooping cough has never quite been eradicated. The best years have seen as few as 5000 cases but the trend has begun to rise in the last 2 decades. Two years ago there were over 27 thousand reported cases with a blackspot outbreak in California. The change that occurred in the ‘90s is believed to have been in the vaccine itself. Developments have apparently made it less long-lasting. The child vaccination routine is for 5 doses starting at 8 weeks with boosting doses between 10 and 12. Medics are now working on the idea of an additional boost and even a totally redone vaccine.
Pertussis is the official name for whooping-cough and there is a definite need for young people between 8 on into their teens, to be fully vaccinated, even if they were properly dosed as infants. The pertussis vaccine is unfortunately not yet 100% effective. It is rare but not unknown for a fully vaccinated individual to contract the disease, when it is so contagious and at large in close communities. Parents beware if your child’s cold and cough go on too long and sound acute, then have your doctor diagnose possible pertussis.
Pertussis begins like a common cold, with all the usual unpleasant symptoms, But colds take a turn for the worse after 9 days or so, with the unmistakable hacking constant cough sounds. They will struggle to breath, with intermittent stoppages called apnea. It is a parent’s cue to race to hospital or clinic.