Whooping cough, otherwise known as pertussis, is threatening to cause the worst epidemic that the United States has seen since 1959, with some 3,000 cases already having been reported in Washington state alone this year. Numbers for the U.S. as a whole stand at around 18,000 for the year so far, which Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told the media on Thursday is roughly double the number of confirmed cases of the disease at the same time last year, according to CNN.
Pertussis is a bacterial infection that causes a distinctive "whooping" cough. In severe cases it can be fatal, particularly among vulnerable groups, such as very young children and infants.
Here is some of the key information regarding the spread of whooping cough in the U.S.
* The Mayo Clinic describes whooping cough as a "highly contagious respiratory infection" that presents with several distinct symptoms. Those symptoms include the signature "whooping cough," which is typically a "severe hacking cough followed by a high-pitched intake of breath."
* Initial symptoms can present much like the common cold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and can include a runny nose, congestion, sneezing, and a mild fever.
* According to USA Today, officials have several theories as to why the U.S. is experiencing such a rapid increase in the number of confirmed cases of pertussis, including better diagnostic rates, a possible mutation in the bacteria that causes the illness, or differences between various types of whooping cough vaccines.
* The previous version of the pertussis vaccine had fallen into disuse about 15 years ago, over initial health concerns regarding potential dangers related to it, which were later disproved. A new vaccine was developed at the time and has been in widespread use ever since.
* The Associated Press reported that whooping cough cases have been steadily increasing in the U.S. over a number of years, but that this year marks a sharp spike upwards compared to the rate that it had been spreading at.
* Initial concerns over the spike in new cases centered around whether or not it was affecting children whose parents had chosen not to immunize them against the disease. Washington state has a very high exemption rate in that regard, and is seeing a large increase in new cases of whooping cough. Officials have determined, however, that at this point the lack of immunization cannot be proven to be having an impact on which children are contracting the infection.
* Officials are recommending that adults that had previously been immunized against whooping cough as children get a booster vaccination. It is being highly recommended that groups that are considered most vulnerable, such as children and pregnant women, make sure to get fully immunized against the illness as well.
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.
- Public Health
- bacterial infection