Category: Cough  

Whooping Cough is Back

Whooping cough, also known as the 100 day cough, is caused by a bacteria, Bordetella Pertussis.  Once nearly vanquished, Pertussis  is once again a public health problem in the US.  The cough is severe and uncontrollable with a distinct sound.  For adults it is a protracted annoyance but for children it may be deadly.  The CDC estimates that worldwide there are 16 million pertussis cases and about 195,000 pertussis deaths in children annually.  In the US there are now at least 50,000 cases/year.

For decades Pertussis was largely not an issue in the US thanks to the DTP vaccine which contained whole pertussis bacteria.  It often caused high fevers and seizures and parents also believed it caused brain damage although that was never proven.  Some parents successfully sued vaccine manufacturers who then abandoned the product.  This led to a “safer” alternative DTaP (acellular Pertussis) which indeed does not trigger severe reactions.  Years after the product came to market it became apparent that DTaP is solidly effective only in the first year and that after that immunity wanes.  Even more troubling is that DTaP is not protective against a newer Pertussis strain recently isolated from hospitalized children in the US.  Researchers are working on a better vaccine but it will take years to bring it to market.

How can we reduce the risk for the most vulnerable population?   Should we frequently revaccinate anyone who directly cares for newborns or very young infants?  If you have a young infant at home you might want to ask your doctor.