February 24, 2011

CDC: Upturn In Whooping Cough Cases Last Year

More than 21,000 people got whooping cough last year, the highest number of cases since 2005 and among the worst years in more than half a century, according to US health officials Wednesday.

The sharp upturn in the number of cases, mostly seen in children and teenagers, puzzles health officials, since the vaccine against whooping cough has been highly effective in children, and vaccination rates for children has been good.

California appeared to be the hardest-hit state last year, with more than 8,300 cases being reported, including deaths of 10 babies. At least 26 deaths from the disease have been reported nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

National case counts are only preliminary and health officials said the number could be much higher. The numbers were reported Wednesday during a vaccine advisory committee conference.

Health officials believe contagious children are a huge threat to vulnerable infants. About 95 percent of children have had at least three shots against whooping cough. But because a vaccine for adolescents and adults was not licensed until 2005, vaccination rates for those groups are much lower. One study found that as little as 6 percent of adults are fully immunized from whooping cough.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends the vaccine for all adults who are around infants. The committee voted on Wednesday to slightly alter vaccine guidance to make it clear that all nurses and other health care workers need to be vaccinated.

Whooping cough -- or Pertussis -- is highly contagious and in rare cases can be fatal, especially for infants too young to be vaccinated. Whooping cough starts like a cold but leads to severe coughing that can last for up to four weeks or longer.


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