Public health officials in the US are bracing for an outbreak of whooping cough this spring.
The infectious disease, named for the distinctive ‘whoop’ noise patients make after a cough, is rarely serious in adults but can have fatal consequences in infants and children who haven’t yet received all of their vaccinations.
Also known as pertussis, it has been known to spike every three to five years.
After the last large outbreak in the US in 2012, CDC officials blamed it on fewer people receiving vaccinations.
Since then, however, they’ve admitted that they don’t understand what’s behind the pattern and the impending outbreak.
California health officials are bracing for an outbreak of whooping cough, an infectious disease that is rarely serious in adults but can be fatal in infants and children
California is on particularly high alert because its last outbreak was in 2014, when nearly 11,000 cases were reported and two infants died.
‘This year is likely to be an epidemic year,’ Dr Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis’ Children’s Hospital, told the Sacremento Bee.
‘We would expect toward late spring a ramping up of cases,’ he said of California.
Earlier this month health officials on the other side of the country in Georgia warned of an increase in reported cases, according to WALB.
One in five babies who catch whooping cough are killed by the disease because of a higher rate of complications such as apnea, seizures and pneumonia.
In some cases when babies are unable to cough, they stop breathing and turn blue from lack of oxygen.
While it’s not considered to be much more than a nuisance in adults, research suggests that 70 percent of cases in children are passed from adults.
Expert warns that if people of all ages don’t get vaccinated soon the disease could spread rapidly across regions of the US.
The last big outbreak in the US occurred in 2012, when there were 48,277 cases reported.
By comparison there were only 17,972 cases reported in 2016.
Since the vaccine was introduced in the 1940s, rates of pertussis have dropped by nearly 80 percent.
Children are recommended to get a vaccine called DTaP five times before age two and once more after age four to immunize them against whooping cough as well as diphtheria and tetanus.
Dr Blumberg said the best way to protect infants is to immunize the people around them to reduce the risk of them coming in contact with the disease.
‘If we have less people vaccinated, we get outbreaks like wildfire,’ Pediatrician Dr Rick Loomis said.
Unfortunately because the disease is less of a problem in adulthood and immunity from the vaccine decreased by 10 to 15 percent per year, most people don’t get vaccinated after childhood.
Pregnant women are recommended to get the Tdap vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks gestation because the antibodies will be transferred to the baby in the womb.
In preparation for the potential outbreak, doctors at UC Davis Children’s Hospital have developed a test for pertussis to go with any other viral testing on babies six months old or younger that will help clinicians detect the disease in its early stage when symptoms are similar to other infections from viruses such as the flu.
‘The problem is the illness is recognized too late for the antibiotics to be effective,’ Blumberg said.
‘It’s very hard to distinguish whooping cough from the common cold in first two weeks of illness when antibiotics would be best. It’s generally diagnosed at three weeks and antibiotics don’t work as well.’