Apparently, it’s time once again to remind people why vaccination is important. Pertussis (“whooping cough”) is a nasty vaccine-preventable illness that is highly contagious and can be deadly to little ones. And it’s making a comeback. The Michigan Department of Community Health is tracking this disturbing trend:
Michigan saw a significant increase in reported cases of pertussis (whooping cough) in the second half of 2008 compared to the first half of the year, prompting officials to remind parents and doctors of the importance of vaccinating infants as well as teens and adults against this serious disease.
As of the end of December, a total of 307 cases had been reported in Michigan, although that number is subject to change as work continues to finalize case investigations. More than twice as many cases (210) were reported in the July-December period compared to the first half of the year (97). In 2007 there were 292 pertussis cases reported in Michigan.
“Pertussis is a vaccine-preventable disease, and that’s why the single most important thing parents can do is get their infants vaccinated and follow the schedule for booster doses,” said Janet Olszewski, director of the Michigan Department of Community Health.
This year is already on course to be one of the worst years ever. Let’s review why we should care about pertussis.
Bordetella pertussis, the cause of whooping cough, is a bacteria that only lives in humans. Therefore, if it can be wiped out in humans, like smallpox, we will never see another case. Universal vaccination is the only way to accomplish this.
Why should we?
Whooping cough, used to be a widespread disease. It is fairly benign in adults, causing a bronchitis-like illness, but children are at high risk of becoming very ill. The greatest risk is for children under 6 months old. If they get pertussis, they almost always need to be hospitalized. Pneumonia occurs in about a quarter of them, seizures and brain damage in about 3-5%. Death rates are about 1-2 in 1000. Serious allergic reactions to the vaccine occur in less than one in 100,000 cases. If you are unvaccinated and live with someone who has the disease, you will catch it (80-100% transmission rate). Vaccination prevents disease most of the time, and when it does not, lessens the severity. Most importantly, vaccination prevents transmission to those most vulnerable…babies. They are too young to have developed proper immunity. So getting vaccinated is not just for personal protection; it is for the protection of others.
Isn’t there another way?
No, not really, other than taking the same approach as we did to smallpox and wiping the disease off the face of the earth. Besides, vaccination is safe and effective…we already have a way to fight this. The problem is, the vaccine’s effects do not last forever, and if an adult catches it, it looks a lot like a common cold. There is no way to isolate them to prevent transmission. Vaccinating everyone protects our most vulnerable, and failure to vaccinate everyone puts our infants at risk.
How does this affect me?
Get vaccinated. Get your kids vaccinated. Prevent tragedy. When you go for your next tetanus shot (every 10 years), ask about the TDaP, a new tetanus vaccine which also boots your immunity to pertussis. And before you buy in to anti-vaccine hysteria, do your homework. Vaccination is your civic duty. It’s also your duty to spread the word. Tell your neighbors, your friends, your family. Vaccinate. Save a life.