Whooping Cough is on the Rise: What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

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“Whooping cough” is not something you hear much about in this day and age, but it seems that it might be making a comeback. What can you do about this seemingly antiquated condition?

 According to an Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) press release, the latest research shows that whooping cough (a.k.a. pertussis) rates are on the rise in the U.S.

 Very contagious, whooping cough occurs when Bordetella pertussis bacteria infect the airways. Within three to 12 days of exposure to the bacteria (usually via an infected person coughing or sneezing near you or leaving droplets on objects that you then touch), you will begin to have the following symptoms: the feeling of being stuffed up, sneezing, runny nose and eyes, low-grade fever, violent bouts of coughing, thick mucus, and difficulty breathing in air (which can lead to the signature “whooping” sound).

 In extreme cases, whooping cough can lead to severe complications (e.g. pneumonia, emphysema, brain hemorrhage, etc.) and even death. However, this infectious disease has been kept tightly under control through vaccination programs.

 To get an idea of the evolution of this disease, let’s look at some numbers. Before the advent of the vaccine in the 1940s, whooping cough infected at least 200,000 people and claimed the lives of 4,000 people every year. After about 30 years of administering the vaccine (it’s part of the DTaP vaccine, which is given to all infants), the annual number of pertussis-related deaths had declined to 1,000. However, fast forward another 10 years to the 1980s, and you’ll see that the infectious disease has started to creep up again, although it’s nowhere near the original numbers.

 Three recent studies, reported at the 44th Annual Meeting of the IDSA, support the claims that whooping cough is again on the rise and they underline the importance of an action plan being implemented on the part of health authorities.

 The first study showed that whooping cough rates in Seattle, WA, had risen from 39 in 2001 to 280 in 2003 — a huge increase in such a short time. According to researchers in the second study, cases of infant whooping cough are increasing amongst the Hispanic population in San Francisco, California (48% of the cases were Hispanic) — the reason why was not discovered.

 In the final study, done in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 409 people were reported to have developed whooping cough in six years. Out of these, 43% were infants. Also, of the 409 individuals, 41.3% were of African-American descent and 11% were Hispanic. It seems that the vaccinations are not reaching certain segments of the population.

 Overall, infants are the most at risk for whooping cough, especially in its most severe form. However, parents, grandparents, friends, and anyone who comes into contact with a young child can expose them to the bacteria. These studies serve as a warning that teenagers and adults (especially those who have not had a booster in the past 10 years) need to be re-immunized against the disease in order to protect themselves and those around them.

 Doctors also need to be more vigilant when it comes to recognizing the symptoms, as researchers believe that many people who have whooping cough are being misdiagnosed. Whooping cough is treatable through antibiotic therapy.

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