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Whooping Cough Outbreaks

By HERWriter
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Wellness related image Photo: Getty Images

Many believe whooping cough (also known as pertussis) is a thing of the past. But whooping cough is still very real and deadly. Currently, several states are reporting an increase in whooping cough cases, including a state-wide epidemic in California.

Whooping cough is preventable by vaccination. Health officials urge people (especially expectant mothers and those with infants in their households) to get immunized.

Whooping cough is an infectious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable coughing. The name comes from the noise you make when you take a breath after you cough. You may have choking spells or may cough so hard that you vomit.

A typical case may appear similar to a common cold for up to two weeks, followed by weeks or months of coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound.

Anyone can get whooping cough, but it is more common in infants and children. It's especially dangerous in infants. The coughing spells can be so bad that it is hard for infants to eat, drink or breathe.

Before a vaccine was developed in late 1940s, this disease killed more children in the United States than all other infectious diseases combined. There are fewer cases today because there are both pertussis-only vaccines and combination vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. If you have whooping cough, treatment with antibiotics may help if given early.

Recently, California reported more than 4,200 cases so far this year, putting the state on track to break a 55-year record for infections. Nine people have died - all of them infants. Kids in Los Angeles have been lining up for booster shoots - hoping to slow down the outbreak.

The fatalities in California and the babies exposed in California were exposed to whooping cough by a family member. Of the nine children who have died, all of them are less than three months of age. The infants were too young to be vaccinated.

Vaccine advocates say the current California outbreak is happening because most adults don't realize they need a booster shot.

Only six percent of adults are properly vaccinated against whooping cough. Anyone who's going to be around babies should make especially sure they're up to date with all vaccines.

But the latest Centers for Disease Control statistics show it's not. In 2002, there were 9,771 infections. In 2003, that number jumped to 11,647, the highest number of cases recorded in 30 years. Officials today reported 500 cases in the Chicago area alone.

No one's exactly sure what's causing the surge. Many believe the whooping cough is a disease of the past and some doctors may not know what they are treating. Also, people should be aware that teenagers outgrow their immunity allowing the cycle of disease to continue.

The alarming return of whooping cough has infectious disease experts scrambling to find a solution. The government is considering requiring booster shots for teens and adults. Currently, most babies get vaccinated at 2, 4 and 6 months.

To protect yourself and your loved ones against whooping cough, take action by making sure you and your loved ones are up to date with vaccinations. This includes DTaP vaccine for infants and children and Tdap booster for adolescents and adults.

CBS News
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.