Whooping cough, pertussis, is making a comeback - unnecessarily.
Before a whooping cough vaccine became available in North America in 1940s, each year, approximately 200,000 children in the U.S. caught the disease - and between 5,000 and 10,000 died. Since vaccination began, the numbers of who got whooping cough decreased significantly to between 10,000 to 40,000 per year, and those who died from the disease dropped to fewer than 10 to 20 deaths per year. But now, the number of people who are getting whooping cough is rising again. According to the CDC, there have been almost 10,000 reported cases of whooping cough between January 1 and June 16, 2014 alone, a 24% increase over the same time period this time last year.
After the initial cold-like symptoms, the following can occur:
- Paroxysms (fits) of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched "whoop"
- Exhaustion after coughing fits
Treatment of whooping cough
Treatment is with antibiotics, as early as possible to lessen the severity of the illness.
Unfortunately, complications can and do occur with whooping cough, which is why it is so important to prevent the illness in the first place. The CDC has divided the complications by age group:
In infants younger than 1 year of age who get pertussis, about half are hospitalized. The younger the infant, the more likely treatment in the hospital will be needed. Of those infants who are hospitalized with pertussis about:
- 1 in 4 (23%) get pneumonia (lung infection)
- 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will have convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
- Two thirds (67%) will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
- 1 in 300 (0.4%) will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
- 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will die
Teens and adults can also get complications from pertussis. They are usually less serious in this older age group, especially in those who have been vaccinated with a pertussis vaccine. Complications in teens and adults are often caused by the cough itself. For example, you may pass out or fracture a rib during violent coughing fits.
In one study, less than 5% of teens and adults with pertussis were hospitalized. Pneumonia (lung infection) was diagnosed in 2% of those patients. The most common complications in another study of adults with pertussis were:
- Weight loss (33%)
- Loss of bladder control (28%)
- Passing out (6%)
- Rib fractures from severe coughing (4%)
Pneumonia or any other type of resulting infection can result in sepsis - which can be fatal.
When my nephew was 6 weeks old, he caught whooping cough. He was too young to vaccinate and he became ill when he exposed to it. When he coughed, his whole body lifted up off the mattress. The cough was that violent. It was a very frightening sight. Thankfully, he was diagnosed and treated - and suffered no lasting effects. But it was scary. As more people refuse to vaccinate their children, more children will likely get the disease. And more will die.