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Whooping Cough
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In the 1930s a new vaccine put the brakes on a childhood killer: whooping cough. Today it is making a comeback. It is not only affecting children this time, but is also adults.

Whooping cough, as pertussis is commonly called, is an infection by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria. Its preferred habitat is the back of a human throat. Once at home, it multiplies explosively. You start coughing, and keep coughing. A dry cough progresses to intense bouts of coughing, where you cannot stop.  

Children with the disease make a whooping noise as they attempt to breathe, giving the disease its popular name. Adults rarely make the whooping noise, leading many adults with the disease to think they simply have a persistent bad cold. Pertussis can last up to three months. This gives pertussis its other common name: hundred-day cough.

Pertussis is highly contagious, too. Adults “toughing out” what they think is a bad cold can unwittingly pass it on to those around them, children included. While debilitating to adults, pertussis can be fatal in children.

Why is pertussis making a comeback?

One reason is that the pertussis vaccination changed. The original vaccine, made from dead pertussis bacteria, gave lifetime immunity. It also often had severe side effects. Parents considered that acceptable back when the threat of pertussis outweighed worry over side effects. When pertussis disappeared, high fevers the occasionally created became increasingly unacceptable.  

A new vaccine was developed with milder side effects. Unfortunately, this vaccine does not confer lifetime immunity. After a few years, the protection offered disappears, and must be renewed with a new vaccination. Pre-teens and adults are now at risk.

Fear of Vaccination

Another reason that pertussis is returning is fear of vaccination. Some parents refuse to have their children vaccinated, believing that vaccines can cause autism. These fears are based on debunked studies, often fueled by lawsuit payouts rather than actual science. Belief in this junk science has become fashionable among the privileged, leading to lower protection for their children – and by increasing the pool of non-immunized, for everyone else.  

What can you do?

Prevention is the best solution. Pertussis is a bacteria, but antibiotics help only in the initial stages of the disease. Its effects last long after the bacteria are gone.

If you have young children make sure their get their scheduled vaccinations. The pertussis vaccine is safe, and side effects generally mild. The risk of pertussis is greater than any risk posed by the vaccine.

If you have preteen children, talk to their pediatrician about the need for booster immunizations. Since the last whooping cough shot is normally given in kindergarten, children entering middle school may need a booster.

Adults in contact with children should also consider regular booster shots. Talk to your doctor While few adults die from pertussis, it is highly contagious. It is not just teachers or child care workers that should be concerned about passing pertussis. Church youth leaders and teachers may inadvertently expose children.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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