The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have dispatched a team of investigators to Columbus, Ohio, to assist the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Columbus Public Health (CPH) and Franklin County Board of Health (FCBH) with investigating the severe outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) in Columbus and surrounding counties. Three staffers are joining the resident CDC representative for Ohio. 854 cases have been reported just in Columbus and Franklin County, representing 55 percent of the state’s 2010 total case count of 1,546 (as of Nov. 27).
The CDC ranks Ohio third in the nation in the number of reported whooping cough cases, trailing California and Texas.
Columbus is the state capital. The campus of Ohio State University is also located in the city. Amy Murray, the assistant director of the Ohio State University Office of Media Relations, advises in an e-mail that OSU Student Health Services has not seen any cases of pertussis this quarter.
The highest single concentration of confirmed whooping cough cases is in teens ages 10-19. Seventeen hospitalizations have been related to the illness, and 12 of those are in infants under six months of age. There have been no related deaths at this time. 65 percent of the reported cases are from August through November of 2010.
The confirmed pertussis cases break down by ethnicity as: white 74 percent, black 16 percent, Hispanic 8 percent, and other 2 percent. Within the confirmed cases, 30 percent are under age 5, 20 percent are ages 5-9, 35 percent are ages 10-19, and the remainder are adults.
The CDC is presently recommending a pertussis booster at age 11 or 12, as research has found that the immunity from the five original vaccinations declines by that age. Ohio is one of 20 states that permits parents to refuse immunizations based upon some form of strong personal belief. It is unclear at this time if lack of immunizations is playing a part in the outbreak.
The law in Ohio reads:
“A pupil who presents a written statement of the pupil’s parent or guardian in which the parent or guardian declines to have the pupil immunized for reasons of conscience, including religious convictions, is not required to be immunized.”
A map prepared by ODH shows that the pertussis cases in the state are primarily centered around Columbus and Franklin County. The cluster is unlike the outbreak in California, where the pertussis epidemic is throughout the state. The CDC investigators will be looking at all factors in Ohio and helping to determine prevention strategies, according to the Columbus Dispatch.