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Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Surges in the U.S.

In recent times in the U.S., pertussis rates have increased, even among those adults who got vaccinated when they were children. Pertussis is very contagious and spreads through sneezes and coughs. The disease is now an epidemic in California. There have been 2,774 confirmed cases in the state, thus far this year. This is a sevenfold increase compared to last year. Seven babies have died.

Outbreak Alert
The Pennsylvania Department of Health has alerted physicians regarding the outbreak. In Philadelphia, the pertussis rate among children is unusually high. There have also been outbreaks in Michigan, South Carolina and upstate New York.

Uncertain Reasons
Health experts are unsure why pertussis is rearing up again. In the 1920s and ’30s, pertussis took a toll of 9,000 children. To counter this, health authorities introduced the combined DPT vaccine in the 1940s. This vaccine combated diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (hence called DPT). As a result, by 1976, pertussis incidence went down to just about a thousand reported cases.

Pertussis Recurrence
But, from the 1980s onwards, pertussis has been rearing its head periodically, despite the use of new and better vaccines with lesser side effects. Besides, health authorities have also recommended adults and adolescents to obtain a booster. In the year 2008, 13,000 cases were reported and confirmed after testing. Health experts opine the actual figure may range from 800,000 to 3.3 million annually, as many adolescent and adult cases remain undiagnosed.

Likely Reason for the Pertussis Epidemic
The likely reason for the recurrence of pertussis could be waning immunity, since most adults are decades past their vaccination. Besides, it takes a lot of time for adolescent and adult patients to seek treatment for their chronic cough. And, even if they go to a doctor, pertussis may still remain undiagnosed. Therefore, patients are likely to spread their disease to others, because of the delay in detection.

Another Reason: Reduced Use of Antibiotics
Yet another reason could be the reduced usage of antibiotics for treating simple colds and coughs. In the past, antibiotics may have helped to inadvertently cure patients with undiagnosed pertussis. Health experts are raising awareness about pertussis and encourage adults, teens and older children to get booster vaccinations. Some Pennsylvania and California hospitals have begun to offer free vaccines to mothers with infants.

Dangerous Disease
Once schools reopen, infected kids may start transmitting pertussis to healthy ones. The danger is enhanced as the bacteria could incubate for even up to three weeks in infected patients. Early detection is necessary, as severe damage could occur before the disease is diagnosed. And, even after antibiotic treatment, recovery could be difficult and long. Thus, the healing period could take a long time. That is why pertussis is also called the “100-day cough”.

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