Doctors ‘very concerned’ about rise in whooping cough casesAlarmed by dramatic increases in the number of whooping cough cases in the U.S., health officials are urging adults, especially pregnant women and those who spend time around children, to get a booster shot as soon as possible.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Alarmed by dramatic increases in the number of whooping cough cases in the U.S., health officials are urging adults, especially pregnant women and those who spend time around children, to get a booster shot as soon as possible.
The illness can have serious consequences in the very young.
“If a newborn gets the disease, it’s horrendous,” said Dr. James Hargreaves, infectious disease specialist with Altru Health System, Grand Forks, who called the rise in cases “very disturbing.”
“It can be a devastating disease,” he said. “Babies die.”
The nation is experiencing a 50-year high in reported cases, said Dr. Gregory Poland, professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
He is “very concerned” about the skyrocketing number of cases, he said. “The only question now is: how much higher will it go?”
The real danger, both specialists say, is from people who are not vaccinated and are in contact with infants and children.
“It’s very important that parents, siblings, grandma and grandpa, teachers, anyone who’s around infants gets vaccinated,” Hargreaves said. “It’s just critical.”
People may not know they have whooping cough because “as you get older, you don’t have all the classic symptoms,” he said.
Many adults don’t realize that they need to be immunized, Poland said. People tend to think of whooping cough as a childhood disease.
They may believe, mistakenly, that the last vaccine they received, at age 11 or younger, is still effective. But the immunity wears off.
“Just because you’ve had (the vaccine) once, it doesn’t protect you in the future,” said Poland, who is also director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group.
“The carriers are adolescents and adults. We infect children, and they have a high rate of hospitalization and death.”
Poland said every adult should get a dose of Tdap, the vaccine that protects the body against pertussis, or whooping cough, as well as tetanus and diphtheria.
The long-accepted “cocooning strategy,” whereby children are surrounded by people who have been vaccinated against the disease, is still “the singular prevention method,” he said.
Whooping cough is a cyclic disease — every four or five years there are peaks in the number of cases, Hargreaves said. “They go up and go down.
“But the numbers now are much higher than you would expect,” he said.
Some in the health care community question the quality of the pertussis vaccine, but the research data on that point is unclear, Hargreaves said.
“We’re not sure that’s a factor because many of the young people who have (whooping cough) were vaccinated.”
There’s also no evidence to support the idea that the bacteria that causes whooping cough are evolving or changing in some way to outwit the vaccine, he said.
Unanswered questions like these are likely to spur research studies.
“I suspect that, with this rise in cases, there’ll be more interest in looking at why this is happening,” Hargreaves said.
The 20th Century was marked by the “miracle of vaccinations,” greatly reducing mortality and suffering from infectious diseases, he said. “We face the threat of these diseases coming back if people don’t get vaccinated.”
Hargreaves and Poland attribute the increasing number of whooping cough cases to more public awareness, better methods of detection, the waning immunity that occurs over time, and a small group of people who resist vaccines for themselves and their children.
Also, in contrast with decades ago, people today are much more mobile and interact with others from all parts of the world, Poland said.
The increased mixing of humanity presents opportunity for infectious diseases.
“The population dynamics which now occur, and the amount of global travel, create an interesting tinderbox” for disease to spread, Poland said, noting massive gatherings such as the Olympic Games in London as an example.
He noted that officials in Australia and Canada have even issued travel warnings to their citizens who plan to visit the U.S., particularly California, “like we’re a Third World country.”
He also cited improved methods of disease documentation as a factor in the increased number of reported cases.
“Nobody kept records as well as they do today,” he said.
“We’re in a sea of it now.”
Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.