Whooping cough making a comeback

By Shayna Brouker • Published: October 26th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Whooping cough sounds like the scourge of centuries past, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention it’s the latest epidemic. With more than 18,000 cases reported so far — almost twice as many as in 2011 — the C-D-C predicts 2012 to mark a 50-year high.

As the name suggests, whooping cough, or pertussis, which means “violent cough,” causes painful, persistent coughing that is very contagious and can last six to 10 weeks. It’s caused by a bacterial infection and produces a constant cough that leaves children gasping for air. Children and babies younger than 6 months are especially susceptible and sensitive to the condition, which can cause complications like pneumonia, rib fracture, fainting, seizures and hernias from the coughing fits.

Scientists say the vaccine is both the root and solution to the problem. People who have not been vaccinated have eight times the risk of infection compared with those who are fully vaccinated. The vaccine also renders the disease less serious and less contagious even if you do catch it. Some parents have opted out of the vaccine in part because of a stigma associated with it. The old vaccine caused some kids to get fevers and, in rare cases, neurological conditions, but it was phased out in 1997. The new vaccine causes fewer side effects but might also wear off faster.

Whooping cough has hit New York City and Washington state especially hard, and with school in full swing, parents should keep kids up to age 11 on a regular vaccination schedule of five doses total and watch for symptoms. The condition starts like a cold that turns into a racking cough. Adults should get at least one dose, but less than 9 percent do.

So whether you’re 36, have a 6-month-old or a 6-year-old starting first grade, be sure to get vaccinated and get protected from whooping cough.