According to the Guardian, a total of 2,466 cases of whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) have been confirmed in the United Kingdom between January and June of 2012, causing the deaths of 5 infants. The UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) said that the number of cases is six times larger than the last comparable outbreak in 2008. The government’s vaccination committee is “now considering recommending booster vaccinations for teenagers and pregnant women and has already recommended immunising healthcare workers who treat young children because infants are most at risk.”
Also according to the article, Mary Ramsay, the HPA’s head of immunization, said: “We are working closely with the Department of Health’s Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunization to consider the most effective ways to tackle the ongoing outbreak. The committee is reviewing a number of options, including the introduction of a booster dose in teenagers and offering whooping cough vaccination to pregnant women. In the meantime we are actively reviewing our cases to see what interventions could have the quickest impact on the spread.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pertussis (whooping cough) can cause serious illness in infants, children and adults. The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. After 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing can begin. Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks. In infants, the cough can be minimal or not even there. Infants may have a symptom known as “apnea.” Apnea is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern. Pertussis is most dangerous for babies. More than half of infants younger than 1 year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized. Approximately 1-2% of infants who are hospitalized from pertussis will die.
Ramsay also stated that, “whooping cough can spread easily to close contacts such as household members. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect people from this infection and uptake of the vaccine in the UK is very good. In addition to this, parents should ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations so that they are protected at the earliest opportunity.”
Whooping cough can be easily prevented with the Tdap or DTaP vaccine. The problem is that infants are not initially vaccinated until they are 2 months old, and are not fully immunized until they’re 6 months old, so they are susceptible to adults who may be infected. Adults may have lapsed immunity or may have not been vaccinated.
Infants are routinely vaccinated against the disease, which is also known as pertussis, at the ages of two, three and four months. They also receive a booster three years later.
Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound. This extreme coughing can cause you to throw up and be very tired. The “whoop” is often not there and the infection is generally milder (less severe) in teens and adults, especially those who have been vaccinated.
Oftentimes, you will hear that whooping cough is not a serious disease, and that “no one dies of it.” Rest assured that it is a killer.
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