The news that Washington State had to declare epidemics of whooping cough alarmed large number of people who thought that at least in the US we are safe from such health threats. Unfortunately, we are much more vulnerable than we think. Similar epidemic occurred in California in 2010, where 9000 people contracted the disease and ten people died from it. But, scientists are worried because this time the number of people affected in Washington is ten times larger, and the vaccine has been available since 1995.
Whooping cough or pertussis is a bacterial infection of the upper respiratory tract caused by the Bordetella pertussis or Bordetella parapertussis. It is highly contagious and, if not treated, can cause permanent damage. It is recognizable for its characteristic “whooping” cough and gasping for breath. It starts as a common cold and can last up to six weeks. Babies are particularly vulnerable and can sometimes choke trying to breathe while coughing. The most common symptoms are runny nose, slight fever and diarrhea.
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If diagnosed in time, people recover faster with antibiotics, but are still contagious for about six weeks. Unfortunately, it is not easy to distinguish whooping cough from other respiratory illnesses, so it goes untreated until the antibiotics are not effective any more.
Whooping cough vaccine has been available since 1940s, and the adult buster has been available since 2005. Many people are not aware of it and are not sure if they need it, thinking that the disease is something reserved for kids. Unfortunately, once they become affected, adults are highly contagious and dangerous to infants around them. In many states, booster vaccination of elementary and high school kids is mandatory.
According to the CDC, pertussis is still the most common contagious disease in the US. It tends to peak every three to five years for reasons that are not clear. The best way to prevent it is to get vaccinated. Everyone except very small babies should get a vaccine, particularly pregnant women. Once vaccinated, children should get a regular booster shot at the age of 12.