Back with a Whoop! What you need to know about Pertussis.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough has been in in the news a lot lately. And for good reason too. There has been an increase in the number of reported cases throughout the country, including right here in Central Florida. So far this year there were 35 confirmed cases in Orange, Osceola and Lake counties according to the Orange county Health department, compared to 11 last year! ( Thats a 300% increase)!!

  • What is whooping cough / Pertussis?

Pertussis is a respiratory infection caused by bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. It is also called whooping cough because of the characteristic sound of the cough it causes.The illness has 3 phases. Each phase lasts about 2 weeks. The first phase usually starts with a runny nose, mild cough, and pink eyes.This phase is difficult to distinguish from a regular cold. The second phase is an increasingly severe cough that can last 2 to 4 weeks. The cough usually comes in spasms and ends with a high-pitched whoop. Often the coughing causes a child to vomit or his or her face to turn red or blue. Coughing spasms are usually worse at night. In infants, whooping cough is a very serious illness and the baby may need to be hospitalized. The third phase is recovery. This may last another 2 to 4 weeks as the cough slowly improves.

  • Treatment is difficult. In most cases by the time the illness is diagnosed it is far too late in the disease process for treatment to be effective.
  • How can whooping cough be prevented?

It is important to have your child immunized against all preventable illnesses, including whooping cough, at regularly scheduled health checkups. A type of tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster called a Tdap shot is now recommended for all teens and adults to protect themselves against pertussis. Getting vaccinated with Tdap is especially important for families with new infants. you can ask your pediatrician or Family doctor if they provide this vaccine.

Whooping cough is a very dangerous disease, especially for babies. The risk of suffering and death caused by whooping cough is far greater than the possible side effects of the shot. Complications of whooping cough can include pneumonia, seizures, and death. The risk of having neurologic problems or long term damage from the current vaccine is very low. Your healthcare provider will discuss any possible side effects with you.

There are 2 main ways to prevent the spread of whooping cough:

  • vaccinate exposed children
  • give antibiotics to anyone who has been exposed to the disease.

Recently and article was published in the NEJM suggesting that immunity from the current vaccine is short lived. In my opinion, the problem with this study is that it was conducted in California where there is already a high rate of unimmunized children or children on alternate schedules. This basically diminishes herd immunity and may lead to these findings.

It’s also a part of being human to lose immunity to infections, both from natural infection and from vaccines. Over time, our bodies forget how to protect against infections. This study points out that the new generation of children who have had only “acellular” pertussis vaccines may need additional boosters to keep them safe. Time will tell. New recommendations may come out later this year or next.The best practice is to make sure your child is up to date on their vaccines, and that teens and adults have received their booster as well. This will definitely help decrease the spread of infection. Ask your pediatrician or Family doctor if getting the vaccine is right for you and your family.