Vaccine-preventable whooping cough on the rise

Why is the incidence of pertussis, a vaccine-preventable illness, on the rise?

No, this is not a trick question.

The fact is, more than 34,000 cases of pertussis were reported to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year, and 48 states – including New York – saw increases in infection rates. In Central New York, the number of cases of the vaccine-preventable illness also known as whooping cough has quadrupled from 2010. This week parents were notified of two students at Jamesville DeWitt Middle School who have the highly contagious bacterial infection also known as whooping cough.

Listen to the Upstate expert interview.

Whooping cough causes a cough that lingers for weeks and can be deadly, especially to young children. Of the 16 deaths reported to the CDC, most were of infants under 3 months of age.

“We are experiencing, statewide, a real serious problem,” says pediatric infectious disease expert Joseph Domachowske MD, a professor of pediatrics and microbiology and immunology at Upstate. The outbreak seems to be fueled both by adults who are unaware they need a booster vaccination and adults don’t want their children to be vaccinated.

“Whooping cough was always considered an infection of babies because they whoop when they get this infection, but adolescents and adults get pertussis as well. They develop a prolonged cough illness and are just as contagious as the babies are. They have the worst cough illness of their life, and this cough illness can last for months,” Domachowske says.

He says incidence of whooping cough dropped to historic lows after a vaccine was made available; but around 2005, medical providers began to see resurgence. Older children and adults with prolonged cough illnesses were found to have pertussis, which explained why babies were still occasionally infected – and illustrates why it’s still important for adolescents and adults to be immunized. The vaccine does not confer lifetime immunity.

Vaccination schedule

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says these populations need the pertussis vaccine:

* Adults over age 19, since vaccine protection for pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria fades over time.

* Pregnant women late in the second or third trimester, so antibodies will transfer to their newborn.

* Infants and children, who receive their first three shots at 2-, 4- and 6-months of age, followed by another at 15- to 18-months, and another at 4- to 6-years.

* Preteens and teens, especially those who will be around small children, at age 11 or 12.

* Healthcare providers and travelers.

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