KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Missouri is one of several states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked as having higher than the national average of pertussis cases, or the disease commonly known as whooping cough.
So far in 2012, a record number of cases have been reported nationwide. On April 3, the Washington State Secretary of Health declared a pertussis epidemic and by June 16, the reported number of cases reached 2,520, a a 1,300% increase from 2011.
CDC officials are now trying to figure out what’s behind the outbreak.
Raymond Cattaneo, MD is a physician with Priority Care Pediatrics in Kansas City. Cattaneo diagnosed two year old Sammy Williams with pertussis several months ago. Sammy is recovering after being treated with antibiotics, but he still has a lingering cough.
Sammy’s mother, Keri Williams, described her son’s coughing fits and said, “He would cough so bad it would scare him and he would run to me because he couldn’t breathe. ”
Pertussis is a highly-contagious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussisthat often leads to wheezing, or that characteristic ‘whoop’ sound. Symptoms often mimic the common cold.
“A large percentage of kids will not have that typical “whoop”, said Cattaneo. “They’ll cough, cough, cough and then take a deep breath in and you get that typical whoop…but for a lot of kids you just don’t have that, it’s just this chronic cough. ”
Cattaneo said pertussis is transmitted easily and added, “You only need to be around somebody who has pertussis for one hour of close contact. ”
“The way that pertussis hits newborn babies is they stop breathing and they can die on you,” said Cattaneo. “And that’s just scary for parents. ”
Cattaneo said, “The new recommendation coming out is that if you are a pregnant mom, you need to be vaccinated with the Tdap vaccine in the second to third trimester. Do not wait until that baby is vaccinated. Everyone in that household who is going to have close contact with that newborn baby should be vaccinated earlier rather than later to cocoon that baby from getting that pertussis bacteria. ”
Why now? Fewer children receiving vaccinations
Cattaneo started a blog post to answer parents’ questions about pertussis. He blames several factors for the recent outbreak, including a decrease in the number of children being vaccinated.
“I think so many people are refusing vaccines right now that we need to protect everybody out there,” said Cattaneo. “When people refuse vaccines, that herd immunity drops and allows the pertussis bacteria to fight through holes in the herd and infect those people where immunizations did not work effectively. ”
DTaP is the vaccine that helps children younger than age 7 develop immunity to three deadly diseases caused by bacteria: diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough.
WebMD states that children should receive five doses of the DTaP vaccine according to the following schedule: one dose at 2 months of age, one dose at 4 months of age, one dose at 6 months of age, one dose at 15 to 18 months of age, and one dose at 4 to 6 years of age.
Why now? Adult sare not adequately immunized
Cattaneo said another possible reason for the outbreak is because adults are not adequately immunized against pertussis. Vaccines wane over time so that’s why it’s important for teenagers and adults to get the Tdap booster.
Tdap has a reduced dose of the diphtheria and pertussis vaccines and is approved for adolescents and adults ages 19 to 64.
Priority Care Pediatrics, like several Kansas City area pediatric offices, will administer the booster to adults. To check the availability of the vaccine, parents should contact their child’s pediatrician or family doctor.
“If your kid is 10-13 you need to come in and get your Tdap vaccine. That is what will protect them,” said Cattaneo.
Why now? The new vaccine is not as effective
Cattaneo also said the new version of the pertussis vaccine is not as effective as the old version.
"The old vaccine worked great,” said Cattaneo. “It was called a wholesale pertussis vaccine but unfortunately it had a lot of side effects so they came out with a new one in the 1990’s that sacrificed some affectivity for decreased side effects. ”
Why now? Disease is often misdiagnosed
Because pertussis can mimic a cold, Cattaneo says it is often misdiagnosed. Not all children and adults infected with the disease exhibit the whoop-like cough.
Why now? No immunization is 100%
Finally, no immunization is 100% effective. Still, the CDC reports most childhood immunizations are effective 85%-95% of the time.
Preparing students for back to school
As for kids going back to school, there are simple things students can do to reduce their chances of getting sick.
“Wash hands, cover coughs, and try not to share sports bottles, water bottles, Gatorade or anything like that if possible. ”
Cattaneo predicts the outbreak will likely get a bit worse when children return to class.
Williams added, “Definitely get