State, federal health regulators: Whooping cough cases rise significantly
Massachusetts has seen a three-fold increase in the number of reported whooping cough cases so far this year. Some of the increase may be attributable to more awareness of the infection, but state and federal officials say the bacterial disease, also called pertussis, is on the rise.
“There really is a true increase, and we can’t always identify the reason behind it,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, director of the state Department of Public Health Division of Epidemiology and Immunization.
Pertussis is characterized by a worsening cough that sometimes -- but not in every case -- causes people to “whoop” as they suck in air. Most cases in Massachusetts occur in people older than 10, but the disease is most dangerous in infants. Rachel Zimmerman of the WBUR CommonHealth blog wrote last spring about Chicopee baby Brady Alcaide who died of pertussis in January.
Officials with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned that the number of cases is growing nationally. As of Aug. 11, 46 states and the District of Columbia had reported higher numbers of reported cases than in the same period last year. In Washington state, where there were more than 2,500 cases in the first half of 2012, a 13-fold increase, state health officials declared an epidemic.
Massachusetts has seen “a microcosm of the national picture,” Madoff said. As of Aug. 25, there were 425 cases reported in the state. Last year, in the same period, there were 128 cases.
More people are becoming aware of whooping cough and, in particular, that it can occur in adults as well as children, Madoff said. Testing and reporting may be up, but that trend doesn’t account for the overall rise in cases, he said.
One hypothesis, Madoff said, is that newer vaccines, introduced in 1995 and widely used in Massachusetts by the following year, may be less effective over the long term at preventing infections.
But vaccination remains the best protection, Madoff said. He urged children and adults, particularly pregnant women and people who are in frequent contact with infants, to get vaccinated. The youngest babies are the most vulnerable, but family members and caregivers can protect them by getting the shots themselves to prevent spread of the disease, Madoff said.
“I’m hopeful that as more and more adults get vaccinated we may be able to start to counter this trend,” he said.
Pertussis vaccination is required for schoolchildren in Massachusetts. Adults who have not been vaccinated recently can get a booster that also protects against diphtheria and tetanus.Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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|White Coat Notes covers the latest from the health care industry, hospitals, doctors offices, labs, insurers, and the corridors of government. Chelsea Conaboy previously covered health care for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @cconaboy.|
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