Whooping Cough is on the Rise in the U.S.

It’s been called an epidemic. Cases of whooping cough are spreading across the country. Doctors are urging people to get their shots before it’s too late.

Nearly 18,000 cases have been reported this year, as stated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is an infectious bacterial illness that affects the respiratory passages. It is extremely contagious. First described in the 1640’s, whooping cough is named because spasms of coughing are temporarily stopped by a “whoop” sound when the person inhales deeply after a coughing spell.

The vaccines wear off every ten years. The public is being made aware of the potential dangers and urged to get a booster shot.

Most adults are unaware that they have contracted whooping cough since the symptoms are similar to those of being run down, having a runny nose and sneezing. Some people go to the doctor and leave with a prescription, such as Zithromax (Z-pack) and this will actually help treat the bacteria caused from whooping cough, even though they have no idea this is what they may have. However, many doctors are reluctant to prescribe antibiotics for a virus or a cold since antibiotics will not provide any benefit. Many doctors feel that antibiotics are being over-prescribed, causing the flu bugs to become more resistant. The best way to diagnose whooping cough is by confirming the presence of the specific bacteria in mucus taken from the nose and throat. If it is shown that a person does have whooping cough, antibiotics are used to lessen the severity of the illness and make the person taking them noncontagious. The antibiotics are most effective if given early, during the first phase of the illness. It is a very difficult situation since diagnosis is key. Many people do not run to the doctor for a throat culture when they think they have a “cold.”

Since the diagnosis of whooping cough is frequently missed, this bacteria is commonly spread to more susceptible infants and children. Whooping cough is contagious from 7 days after exposure to the bacteria and up to 3 weeks after the onset of coughing spasms. The first 1-2 weeks of the illness is when treatment should begin for best results.

The number of whooping cough cases has tripled in New York (1,288 cases so far this year) and NY Senator Charles Schumer is calling on health officials to provide free vaccinations. On Sunday, he urged the federal government to work with health officials in every state to make sure that adults get vaccinated for free if they have not been since age 18.  He pointed out that the cough is very contagious and especially dangerous if transmitted to young children.

Health officials say the nation is on track to have the worst year for whooping cough in more than five decades. 18,000 cases have been reported so far, more than twice the number seen at this point last year. At this pace, the number of whooping cough cases will surpass every year since 1959.

Washington, one of the hardest hit states, and Wisconsin State each reported more than 3,000 cases (which is more cases than have been seen in 60 years). A high number of cases have been seen in a number of other states including NY, Minnesota, Kansas, Arizona and California.

In Northern Kentucky health officials are warning that an outbreak of whooping cough is continuing. There have now been more than 61 cases reported. To stop the spread, the Northern Kentucky Independent Health District is offering vaccines for $4 at its four county health centers.

In rare cases, whooping cough can be fatal.   Nine children have died so far. Whooping cough causes very severe coughing that may last for months. You can cough so hard that you fracture a rib.

The CDC is urging adults, especially pregnant women, to get vaccinated so they don’t spread it to infants who are too young to get the vaccine.

Typically it is recommended that infants receive their first DTap (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) shot at age 2 months, then 4 months, then 6 months, 15-18 months, and then between the ages of 4 and 6 years. It is suggested that a booster shot be given at age 11. The vaccine’s protection does not wane and health officials have debated moving the booster shot up.

There has been an increase in cases among children aged 13-14. Children get a booster shot at age 11-12, but the new outbreak indicates that the effectiveness of the booster may not last very long. The increase in whooping cough this year also suggests that the bacterium that causes it, Bordetella pertussis, is mutating to make the vaccine less effective.

Bacterial pneumonia is the most common complication from whooping cough. The CDC estimates one in five infants with pertussis will get pneumonia. Other complications include bluish skin from lack of oxygen, collapse of a lung, sinusitis, ear infection, dehydration, nosebleed, bruising, hernias, retinal detachment, rectal prolapse, disorders of the brain and failure to thrive.

Some health officials are reporting that when the vaccination rate drops, everyone will become more vulnerable to infectious diseases. They have said that when more than 90 percent of the population is vaccinated the disease cannot spread because there aren’t enough susceptible people in the community. They believe that the high rate of vaccine refusal is making it easier for whooping cough (and other diseases) to spread.

Interestingly, it is reported that it is the people who vaccinated their children who are stricken with whooping cough. 81 percent in some areas in California were fully vaccinated.

In the past decade, vaccinating children has become a controversial topic. Many parents believe that the recommended vaccines are very dangerous to their young children’s health and are choosing not to inoculate their children, even before they start kindergarten.  This is a hot topic because in order for a child to attend school, they must prove that they are up to date on all their vaccinations.

While there may be a health care crisis that this vaccine could alleviate, how do you feel about government potentially forcing children to be vaccinated? Is that a personal decision for the parents to make? Or does the health and safety issue trump parental discretion?

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