California’s recent whooping cough (pertussis) outbreak is the largest in more than 50 years, and has caused the deaths of seven infants under three months of age. An estimated 1,500 Californians have been diagnosed in 2010–five times the norm, with another 700 possible cases.
According to Gilberto Chavez, Chief of California Department of Public Health’s Center for Infectious Diseases, “it is especially important to protect babies, who have no natural immunity to whooping cough and who are most likely to die from the illness.” Even though infants can get their first shot at six weeks of age, they aren’t fully protected until after their third shot at six months.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 70 percent of infants with whooping cough are hospitalized. The CDC says that the best method of protecting infants is to vaccinate everyone around them, such as parents, siblings, grandparents, caregivers, etc.
Understanding Whooping Cough
While whooping cough is mostly thought of as a childhood illness, it is actually not uncommon in adolescents and adults, who often pass it to other family members unknowingly. For adolescents and adults, whooping cough may simply result in a nagging cough and a few days home from school or work. For an infant or young child, however, the disease can mean serious trouble.
According to the CDC, whooping cough affects almost 50 million people worldwide annually and results in nearly 300,000 deaths. In the U.S., there were 156 deaths reported from whooping cough between 2000 and 2006. In 2009, nearly 17,000 cases of the illness were reported in the U.S. and many more are suspected to be unreported.
Most children survive whooping cough, even if non-vaccinated. However, in children less than one year old, serious illness almost always occurs. More than half of those under one year of age must be hospitalized and more than half also momentarily stop breathing. One in eight develop pneumonia, and one percent have seizures as a result of the illness. In infants under two months of age, whooping cough is even more dangerous, according to Dr. Keyserling of Emory University, who cites the following statistics:
*Nine in ten babies require hospitalization,
*15 to 20 percent develop pneumonia,
*Two to four percent have seizures,
*One in 100 die from complications of whooping cough.
After an incubation period of seven to ten days, whooping cough in infants or young children is characterized initially by mild respiratory symptoms that may include mild coughing, sneezing or runny nose. After one to two weeks, the coughing may develop into uncontrollable fits of five to ten forceful coughs, followed by a high-pitched “whoop” as the child struggles to breathe. This stage can last two to eight weeks (or even longer), followed by a gradual transition to the recovery stage which usually lasts one to two weeks. Common complications of the disease include pneumonia, earache or seizures. Infection in newborns can be particularly severe.
There was much controversy in the 1970s and 1980s surrounding the safety of whooping cough (pertussis) vaccines. The reports of adverse effects were mainly isolated to whole-cell (DTP) vaccines, rather than the more expensive DTaP vaccines. Currently, in the U.S. there are three different brands of DTaP vaccines available. DTaP vaccines are “acellular,” which indicates that they are not made up of cells or contain no cells. These vaccines are considered safer, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), who along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), all recommend the vaccines.
“Whitney View”, Vol. 3, No. 50.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention