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Whooping Cough…It’s back!

Photo By: Ben Williams/Flickr

Pertussis, also known as the famous “whooping cough”, has been identified since the eighteenth century. It is a bacterial infection that is quickly passed from person to person and symptoms can last up to two months. Unfortunately, the symptoms cannot be cured by an antibiotic but antibiotics are prescribed to help prevent the spread of the illness. Symptoms include a very violent cough and gasps for air that make a “whoop” noise. Vomiting is also a common symptom that individuals seem to experience. Whooping cough is most dangerous, if not fatal, to infants because of the lack of immunity they have to the disease.  Whooping cough was put on the shelf after the Great Depression when the vaccination was created in the mid-1940s…until now.

Whooping cough has been increasing for a number of years but spiked this current year. Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press reported in July that, nearly 18,000 cases had been reported which is twice the number seen at the same time in 2011. At that pace, the number for the entire year would be the highest since 1959. The spike that the United States is experiencing could be occurring for a number of reasons. Experts have suspicion regarding the evolution in the bacteria. In the late 1990s, young children were experiencing rashes, fevers, and other problems. There was a new version created as a result. Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC told the AP reporter that the new version is safer but may not be as effective long term. It was in the 1990s when the cases of whooping cough began to increase year by year. Also, many adolescents are not completing the five doses that the government suggests. The first vaccine starting at age 2 months and final one between ages 4 and 6. A booster shot is also recommended around age 10. When the five doses are not completed, the risk is much higher for infection. Another possibility that may have caused this spike in whooping cough is the problem with adults not keeping up-to-date with their vaccinations.

Walgreens conducted a study called the Walgreens Immunization Index. According to this index,

  • “71 percent of adults surveyed feel being up-to-date on immunizations was very important to maintaining good health.”
  • “more than 40 percent don’t know what immunizations they may need.”
  • When they asked how likely the adults would be to follow a health care provider’s recommendation for an immunization such as the flu, pneumonia, or whooping cough, “only 55 percent said they’d be very likely to adhere to the recommendation for whooping cough – the lowest percentage of the vaccines listed.”

One of the reasons for this could be because the history of whooping cough was ancient until now. The Walgreens Immunization Index also states that sixty-one percent of adults say they’ve never been immunized against whooping cough. According to an article done by ABC News, Dr. John Modlin, Chair of Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School states that, “whooping cough is the only vaccine-preventable disease that has not been completely controlled by routine childhood immunization.” This is one of the things that have made officials understand the need for more measures to fight the disease.

The last thing that may be a possible contributor to the rise of whooping cough is the new trend of not vaccinating children. Many new parents have decided for a variety of reasons to avoid vaccines for their children. Kelsey Haliti, a new wife and mother-to-be, has decided to opt-out of vaccines for her child. Kelsey was never vaccinated as a child and believes that vaccinations are dangerous and unnecessary. She says, “I find that eating healthy, exercising, sleeping right, staying healthy mentally, etc. play a large role in our health and turning to a vaccine for every little problem won’t help anything. We were made a certain way for a reason, our immune systems and natural remedies should not be underestimated.” She is not alone. Other reasons that Kelsey and other parents are opting out include vaccines are not necessary due to the rareness of the diseases in our country, the ingredients other than the illness in the vaccine (formaldehyde and aluminum being two of them), and the correlation between vaccines and diseases like autism and diabetes. The studies that have been done are not as conclusive as one would think and the government still recommends that individuals get vaccinated.

The medical field is growing ever so quickly but vaccines are still a major part of the practices and often a requirement. Most medical professionals still see vaccines as being crucial to keeping the ancient diseases from popping back up. Dianne Hanshaw, an obstetrics and gynecology registered nurse, finds vaccines to be important for a number of reasons. She says, “Vaccines fight off what our immunity cannot. The incidence of people not being vaccinated, the number of cases only increase which puts the population at greater risk. The aim is to avoid epidemics of such diseases.” Many of the medical professionals feel the same way as Dianne and continue to push for parents to vaccinate from birth.

Whooping cough is extremely dangerous because of the rate that it spreads and the effects it can have on the individuals that catch it. It is most dangerous and often fatal to babies. Older people generally recover from the disease but are usually the source of infection for infants. The germ is spread when infected individuals cough or sneeze near non-infected individuals. The illness typically starts with cold-like symptoms but evolve into a severe cough. If you have not been vaccinated and/or have had a cough for a prolonged period of time, it is suggested that you visit with your primary care doctor immediately.

Here are the top seven states with the highest cases of whooping cough confirmed by the CDC as of September 15th, 2012, according to Examiner.

View Whooping Cough Cases in a larger map

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.