Photo from CDC’s Public Health Image Library.
A recent CDC report profiles the rapid rise in rates of pertussis, also known as whooping cough. The Washington State Secretary of Health has declared a pertussis epidemic in response to the 1,300% increase in cases since 2011. National pertussis rates have doubled since 2011, leading to the highest incidence of the disease in 50 years although rates have been rising since the mid-1990s. Particularly worrisome is the rise in pertussis among children vaccinated for the disease, which may be due to the decreased long-term effectiveness of a newer version of the vaccine introduced in the 1990s. There have been 9 deaths due to pertussis since the beginning of 2012.
Early in the disease, pertussis has symptoms similar to the common cold, including runny nose, congestion, sneezing, mild cough and mild fever. Within 1 to 2 weks, severe coughing fits begin, which can last several weeks. The cough in children is distinguished by a whooping sound. Infants may also have apnea, which is a pause in breathing. Infants are at highest risk of complications, and half of infants with pertussis have to be hospitalized.
In response to the rising rates of pertussis in Washington and across the country, the CDC recommends that all children remain up to date with the combined diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) vaccination, which requires a total of 5 doses before age 6. Children and teens should receive one dose of a booster vaccine, called Tdap. For adults, the CDC recommends replacing the tetanus booster given every 10 years with a Tdap booster, which also protects against pertussis. Vaccination is particularly important for families with and caregivers of new infants, who should be vaccinated two weeks before coming into contact with the infant. Pregnant women who have never been vaccinated should receive one dose of Tdap anytime between the late second trimester and the immediate postpartum period. Although the vaccine is not 100% effective, vaccinated individuals have much milder cases of the illness.