ATLANTA (AP) ó Whooping cough was once a terrible menace to U.S. children,
with hundreds of thousands of cases reported annually. Then a vaccine drove
cases down, and the illness became thought of as rare and even antiquated.
But it never totally disappeared, and now thereís been a spike in cases.
With nearly 18,000 cases so far this year, health officials say this is
shaping up to be the worst national epidemic in more than 50 years for the
highly contagious disease.
Worrisome numbers have been reported in more than a dozen states.
Whatís a parent to do?
FIRST STEP: Make sure your child is up-to-date on vaccination against
whooping cough, or pertussis. There are five doses, with the first shot at
age 2 months and the last between 4 and 6 years. A booster shot is
recommended around 11 or 12. Itís part of routine childhood shots that also
protect against diphtheria and tetanus.
PROTECT YOURSELF: Adults who are around kids should get a whooping cough
booster shot so that they donít spread it to young children, who are the
most vulnerable to whooping cough. Nine young children have died so far this
year. The booster for teens and adults, approved in 2005, was combined with
the tetanus booster that adults are supposed to get every 10 years or so.
VACCINE NOT PERFECT: No vaccine is 100 percent effective, and its ability to
fend off infections wanes as years pass. But even diminished vaccine
protection is better than nothing, and usually people who are vaccinated
have milder cases. In this current epidemic, experts are investigating
whether the childhood shots and the booster offer less lasting protection
than previously thought.
WATCH FOR SYMPTOMS: The illness typically starts with cold-like symptoms
that can include a runny nose, congestion, low-grade fever and a mild cough.
Infants may have a pause in breathing, called apnea. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention advises parents to see a doctor if they or their
children develop prolonged or severe coughing fits, vomiting and exhaustion.
The name comes from the sound children make as they gasp for breath. Hereís
what it sounds like: http://tinyurl.com/btskus
The disease is spread through coughing or sneezing. Whooping cough is
treated with antibiotics, the earlier the better.
CDC on whooping cough: