The Battle Against Whooping Cough Continues
Dec 13, 2011

While you’ll often hear public health departments warning of influenza this time of year,there is also reason to be concerned over another contagious disease.   It’s known as “whooping cough”, or pertussis, and it’s a highly contagious bacterial infection that can result in prolonged coughing spells that often lasting for weeks or even months. While one may think that coughing is just inconvenient, people with pertussis often cough violently and rapidly, over and over, until the air is gone from their lungs and they are forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound.  Pertussis can even lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, mental retardation, and even death.
Statistics show that 50 out of every 10,000 people with pertussis will die and 90% of pertussis-associated deaths have been among babies less than one year old.  Since children are not fully immunized against pertussis until they receive all five doses of their DTaP vaccine (recommended at ages 2, 4, 6, 15-18 months and 4-6 years), infants are relatively unprotected and extremely vulnerable.  Since their bodies are unable to effectively clear the thick mucus from their chest if they do contract pertussis, the physical impact of this disease is often too much for them to handle.
While most children get immunized, under-immunization, as well as undiagnosed patients, can both contribute to the spread of pertussis.  For instance, children don’t always complete their immunization series.  Often, those who suffer with pertussis often mistake their illness as a persistent cold and never get properly diagnosed.  They often don’t realize that they could be spreading infection to others through the droplets in the air caused by their coughing and sneezing.  It even common for many teens and adults not to realize that their immunization has waned and that they need a Tdap booster shot in order to extend their protection.  That is why public health workers, doctors and even OB/GYNs, are now encouraging Tdap shots for adults, especially those who are in close contact with infants.
During a pertussis outbreak, children who have received all of their pertussis vaccinations are six times less likely to become infected than those who have never been vaccinated.   So in order to protect those too young to be vaccinated, we must rely on the concept of cocooning, where all the individuals around the child are immunized in an effort to shield the baby from possible exposure.  Fortunately, this concept is gaining traction, as more parents are beginning to understand the importance of community immunity.  However, there is still reason to be concerned.  Some parents are choosing not to immunize their children and some are using vaccine exemptions to send their children to school without the required pertussis immunizations.  This, combined with waning immunization of adolescents and adults seem to be resulting in a growing number of whooping cough cases nationwide, with some states seeing record-breaking years.
For instance, last year the state of California experienced a pertussis epidemic that has not been seen since the 1940’s, in the time period before a vaccination became widely available.  With over 9,400 confirmed cases, 10 infant deaths and untold hospitalizations, the costs of this epidemic includes treatment, surveillance, lost school and work time, as well as the lost of precious lives.  Now there appears to be similar concerns this year in states such as IllinoisNew York, Montana and others.
So while we are emphasizing the importance of influenza vaccination at this time of year, it’s also a good time to ensure you are immunized for pertussis.
As an expectant parent, you’ll want to read these stories of Landon Carter Dube and Callie Van Tornhout, and then send an e-card to your family and friends to encourage them to get vaccinated before they meet your new baby.  If you have a teenage child, listen to Emily and Zack’s story, as shared by Shot By Shot.  There personal experience with pertussis provides incentive to get that Tdap booster today.  Don’t take a chance with pertussis.

As Zach says, “Stay healthy.”  Emily adds, “Get the Tdap.”  Their mother suggests that everyone “get immunized so that you don’t have to go through what they did.”

Wouldn’t it be better to do what you can to prevent this disease now, than to later wish you had taken the time to get vaccinated?

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