The Return of Whooping Cough

READER’S QUESTION

I’ve heard whooping cough is coming back? Is that true? What should parents do?

DR. BLUM’S ANSWER

It is true that Whooping Cough, or Pertussis, is coming back. The number of cases 20 years ago was down to about 2,000 per year in the United States. It is now probably above 20,000 cases per year. There have been epidemics of Pertussis in California, including at least two deaths of previously healthy infants. Pertussis, or Whooping cough, will show up as a very hard cough that last four to eight weeks. In young children, the cough will have a characteristic "Whoop" sound but in older children and adults it will just be a very hard, dry cough. Often people will cough so hard they vomit afterward.

Prevention is the most important part of stopping this resurgence of a deadly disease. Infants get five doses of DTaP vaccine before entering kindergarten and this provides nearly 100% protection. Unfortunately, this protection wanes over time and by adolescence people can once again become susceptible to the disease. It is now recommended that all 11 to12 year olds get a booster dose of Pertussis vaccine called TDaP. This is now included in the standard Tetanus dose that all adults should get every 10 years, and everyone would get if cut with a dirty object and required an emergency room visit for stitches. Anyone with a cough that lasts more than three weeks should be checked for Pertussis. Antibiotics can be given that help stop the spread of disease, but unfortunately the antibiotics do not do very much to shorten the duration of the cough.

Dr. Robert M. Blum is a pediatrician at Southfield Pediatrics in Bingham Farms and West Bloomfield. Email him questions at askdrblum@www.metroparent.com.

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