Whooping Cough Outbreak: What You Need to Know

Alarming news is coming from California that an outbreak of whooping cough—or pertussis—is afflicting children.

Pertussis was thought to be mostly eradicated in recent generations due to the vaccination and subsequent booster shot. Those watching the outbreak are concerned that it has reached epidemic proportions and seek to analyze what has caused the outbreak.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, children who are too young to be fully vaccinated and those who have not completed the primary vaccination series are at highest risk for severe illness.

Like measles, pertussis is highly contagious, with up to 90 percent of susceptible household contacts developing the disease after exposure. Adolescents and adults become susceptible when the immunity from their vaccination wanes, but can receive a booster shot of the new combination vaccine, called Tdap.

The California outbreak, with more than 1,500 confirmed cases, has killed six infants.

Some health experts theorize that in places like California where an increasing number of parents have resisted immunizing their children for fear of side effects, there is a breach in what's known as "herd immunity"—the necessary level of protection that keeps disease from spreading, according to a news report by MSNBC.

This so-called breach allows the disease to infect vulnerable people, including those for whom a vaccine doesn't work or wears off and babies who are too young to be immunized.

Whooping cough is highly communicable and lasts for many weeks, with spasms of severe coughing, whooping and vomiting. It is transmitted through direct contact with discharges from respiratory mucous membranes of infected people.

California now recommends that anyone over age 7, who isn't fully immunized, be immunized for the disease, including those who are more than 64 years old; women of child-bearing age before, during or immediately after pregnancy; and anyone who might have contact with pregnant women or infants.

If you live outside of California and are concerned about the spread of pertussis or think you may be at high risk for the disease, call your health care provider. You may also check this blog site on HealthyWomen.org for more information as it becomes available.

For more on pertussis, visit http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Pertussis/
For more on all vaccines, visit: http://healthywomen.org/condition/vaccines

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