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Living Well

Whooping Cough Cases are on the Rise

Last updated: Jul 31, 2012

According to recent Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention reports, the incidence of whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is at an all-time high since 1959. To date, more than 18,000 cases of whooping cough have been reported—a figure more than double the number of cases reported by this time last year. In Hunterdon county alone, there has been a 625% increase in cases this year compared with 2011.

Summit Medical Group pediatrician Alan E. Thomas, MD, FAAP, says, "CDC reports suggest this might be the worst year for whooping cough in more than 5 decades."

What is whooping cough (pertussis)?
Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial respiratory infection that can cause serious illness and death. Although it can affect people at any age, it is especially dangerous for infants and children.

In the 1940s, widespread use of a vaccine made pertussis cases rare. For approximately 25 years after the vaccine, for example, less than 5000 cases of whooping cough were reported each year in the United States. Since the 1990s, however, the number of cases has increased. In 2004 and 2005, more than 25,000 cases of whooping cough were reported. In 2010 and with an especially large outbreak in California, more than 27,000 cases were reported.

Researchers suggest that whooping cough typically occurs in cycles, with 3-year and 5-year peaks. "Recent peaks are far higher than we would like," says Dr. Thomas. "For this reason, Summit Medical Group urges parents to follow  government recommendations to vaccinate children in 5 doses, with the first shot at age 2 months and the last shot between ages 4 and 6 years. At age 11 years, we recommend that all children have a booster shot to protect them against the disease."

Dr. Thomas emphasizes that the booster shot at age 11 years is especially important. "Many parents forget the booster shot, which offers the long-term protection needed to prevent infection and the spread of disease." While vaccination rates are high (84%) for young children, the CDC suggests that fewer than 70 % of children age 11 years and older have received their final pertussis vaccine."

"It's also important for pregnant women and anyone who spends time with children to get a booster shot," adds Dr. Thomas. Men and women age 18 years and older also should have the pertussis vaccine. 

Symptoms of Whooping Cough
Symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a cold and include:

  • A runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Mild, long-lasting, or severe cough
  • Fever

How is whooping cough treated?
Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics. "Because treating pertussis in its early stages offers the best possible chance for recovery," says Dr. Thomas, "children with any symptoms of whooping cough should see a doctor immediately!"

Why is whooping cough spreading?
Eager to understand and stop spread of the disease, researchers are examining whether recent high pertussis rates are a result of better detection and reporting, fewer children being vaccinated, ineffectiveness of the vaccine, or a change in bacteria that cause the illness. "Until researchers identify what's causing the high rate of pertussis infections," says Dr. Thomas, "the best protection is being up to date on the vaccine and getting early, effective treatment."

For more information or to schedule an appointment
for your child's pertussis vaccine,
call Summit Medical Group Pediatrics
today at 908-273-4300.

If your child has an egg allergy,
he or she might still be able to have vaccines.
Ask your doctor.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whooping Cough. http://www.cdc.gov/features/pertussis/. Accessed July 30, 2012.