Let’s Talk About Pertussis Also Known as Whooping Cough

Written by Richard Lander MD FAAP

What is pertussis?

Pertussis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. Sometimes referred to as the hundred day cough, it can be quite debilitating. The cough is persistent and recurs day in and day out. Once you hear this cough, you will never forget it. The cough is repetitive, easily lasting 30 seconds or more and has a whoop sound at the end of it. This whoop is what gives rise to its popular name whooping cough. If you are curious, you can hear the whoop sound on the internet.

Who gets Pertussis?

Many people do-all ages and from all walks of life including: young children, teenagers, adults in middle age and senior citizens.

Is Pertussis contagious?

Yes it is. I have seen Pertussis several times in my practice this year. I have seen it spread from mother to child, among siblings and even from teacher to students.

Treatment of Pertussis

There are different phases of Pertussis. When the diagnosis is made during the first phase of the illness, it can be treated with antibiotics. This may shorten the duration of the disease. Otherwise physicians can offer supportive care and medication to help the patient sleep.

Prevention

Pertussis is preventable by a vaccine. This vaccine, DPT (Diptheria, Pertussis and Tetanus) is typically given during childhood. The vaccine is given as a series of three injections in the first year of life, a booster during the second year of life and another booster before the start of elementary school. An additional booster is given at 11 year of age.

Because this last vaccine is relatively new, many children older than 11 year of age will be receiving it. Additionally the Tetanus booster which has always been recommended to be given every ten years has been change to include the Pertussis vaccine.

Therefore, adults of almost all ages are urged to obtain it even if you received a Tetanus booster a year ago. Many hospitals across the country are giving the vaccine to new mothers right after delivery and in some progressive hospitals the vaccine is being offered to new dads and to grandparents.

With this approach the State of California, which had seen deaths from Pertussis in the last few years, has dramatically decreased their rate of Pertussis. These dramatic results have persuaded many pediatricians to offer this vaccine to parents and grandparents of their patients.

Why talk about Pertussis now?

Pertussis is on the rise in the United States. From January through March in 2012 there were seven times the number of cases seen in Washington, D.C. than in the same time frame the year before in 2011. So why you might wonder: why this rise in Pertussis now? Several years ago we experienced a number of parents refusing to have their children vaccinated against childhood diseases including Pertussis.

These refusals were based on fears of the vaccines and components of the vaccines such as aluminum or mercury. Thankfully, these fears have been proven to have been unfounded. Unfortunately, once people stopped vaccinating their children, herd immunity was lost.

Herd immunity is gained when a majority of people in a geographic area receive a vaccine. These vaccines then protect even the few who were not vaccinated.

As the number of vaccine refusers climbed, we lost herd immunity. Hopefully today with increased knowledge through education, the number of vaccine refusers is beginning to decline and more people are again protected against infectious diseases such as Pertussis. Scientists are working tirelessly looking for clues to currently unanswerable medical questions.

Every day they race the clock in an effort to look for a treatment for currently untreatable medical conditions and diseases. Pertussis is not one of them. Pertussis is preventable with a vaccine It is criminal that there are people living in the United States in 2012 suffering from a disease they did not have to have. Please don’t be one of them. Ensure that you and your loved ones do not get Pertussis. Get vaccinated! Get vaccinated now!

Dr. Lander has been practicing pediatrics for 32 years in New Jersey and is the immediate past chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Administration and Practice Management.  He says if he had to do it all over again he wouldn’t hesitate to be a pediatrician.

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