Pertussis, also known as “whooping cough” is a serious bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. It can be fatal for infants. Pertussis was a thing of the past, eradicated by childhood vaccination in developed countries. Pertussis was the “P” in your baby’s DPT shot.
It seems pertussis is back despite vaccination. And it manifests not only in children, but in adolescents and adults who have had the shots during infanthood. In the US, increased incidence of pertussis in many states has been reported, particularly in California where more than 2000 cases of whopping cough have been confirmed and resulted in 7 infant deaths. In the whole of the US, there may be 800,000 to 3 million cases year although only a small portion are diagnosed and confirmed with lab tests. The number of cases has triple since the 1980s.
There are many possible reasons why pertussis is becoming widespread. Some of them are:
- Immunity wore off. As time passes, the immunity rendered to us by vaccines wanes and this may be why adults are catching whooping cough. It seems that immunity from pertussis wears off 5 to 10 years after vaccination. Health experts are recommending booster shots for adults to boost immunity.
- Some people do not like vaccines. In recent years, there have increasing number of parents who refused to have their kids vaccinated for fear of the side effects of the shots, especially autism. The increasing number of vaccinated kids may have compromised the so-called herd immunity, e.g. in order for immunity to work, a certain percentage of the population must receive the vaccine. Below this percentage, the immunity wanes.
- Bugs are resistant to antibiotics. During to indiscriminate use of antibiotics in the past, new superbugs that are resistant to present day drugs have evolved. The current bugs causing pertussis may be resistant to current treatments available.
- Others, such as environmental factors.
Currently in the US, health authorities are stepping up in their efforts to raise awareness about pertussis.
Several American states have sounded the alarm and are urging for vigilance. Last August 5 was proclaimed as Pertussis Awareness Day by the Mayor of New York City. March of Dimes and the vaccine maker Sanofi Pasteur have launched the Sounds of Pertussis campaign.
The take home messages of the campaign are
- Pertussis is deadly for infants and they do not get full immunity until they received their thirds dose.
- Pertussis spreads within the family and many infants catch the disease from infected parents.
- Parents are urged to have their babies vaccinated and strictly stick to the vaccination schedule.
- Older children, adolescents and adults should get booster shots to boost their immunity against pertussis.