Recent Increase in Whooping Cough Cases Underscores Importance of Vaccine

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is one of those illnesses that many people may think is a thing of the past, or is so rare you don’t need to be concerned about it. The CDC has announced, however, that nearly 29,000 cases of pertussis have been reported for 2012, as of September 20th. This is higher than the rates reached in any year since 2000, and the year isn’t over yet.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. It is spread among people in close contact with an infected person through coughing and sneezing. It is called “whooping cough” due the persistent coughing that it causes, to the point that all the air is gone from your lungs and you are forced to inhale, causing a high-pitched “whoop” sound.

Individuals of all ages can be affected by whooping cough, but it is most dangerous in infants, and more than half of infants younger than one year of age with the illness must be hospitalized. That is why it is so important that infants are vaccinated against pertussis (along with diptheria and tetanus with the DTaP vaccine) according to the current schedule–five doses, one at two months, four months, six months, 15 to 18 months, and four to six years. Adults, particularly pregnant women, should receive a booster, called Tdap.

Certain states are seeing an incidence of whooping cough that is higher than the national average so far in 2012. Those states include Washington, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Wisconsin has reported nearly 4,500 cases as of September 17, 2012, up from 1,192 probable and confirmed cases in 2011. Minnesota has seen 3,558 cases as of September 20th, a drastic increase from the 661 cases reported in 2011. Washington declared an epidemic in April, and as of late September, over 4,000 cases of whooping cough had been reported, vastly outnumbering the 965 cases reported in 2011, and the meager 608 cases in 2010. That state is investigating the alarmingly high rates of illness in 10, 13 and 14 year olds, to see if there is a possibility that the DTaP vaccine is wearing off sooner than its predecessor vaccine, DTP, which was discontinued in 1997.

As whooping cough is on the rise and is easily spread, all individuals, from infants to adults, should receive the vaccine that is appropriate for their age group.