Whooping Cough Making A Comeback: Is This The Worse Year Since 1959?

There has recently been a lot of talk about pertussis, also known as “whooping cough.” This year, the US appears to be headed towards epidemic levels of the disease as the number of new cases approach the highest rates in 50 years. Almost 18,000 cases have been reported so far, more than double the number seen last year at the same time.

It’s first important to understand why we are in the current predicament. For decades, antibiotics have been misused and abused. Did you know that more than 29 million pounds of antibiotics are given to food-producing animals in the US every year? This is done to help promote growth and prevent disease. ¬†Antibiotics have thus become less effective at treating diseases such as whooping cause. To make matters worse, few drug companies are currently developing new antibiotics to help treat serious infections. Instead, many choose to invest in the development of blockbuster drugs to help treat cancer, alzheimers and parkinsons.

Chances are, you have or know someone that has received the whopping cough vaccine. But the amount of time that has elapsed since then is a significant part of the issue at hand. This is due in part to the fact that some individuals may not be keeping up with booster shots as recommended, and others are now being administered a different version which scientists now believe may not be as effective as the bacteria becomes resistant to drugs.

Whopping cough is most problematic for babies, as the infection can be deadly. There’s even been cases of drug-resistant whooping cough making a comeback in France. Vaccination against the disease cannot begin until babies are at least two months old, and several doses of the vaccine is required, meaning that full immunity is not achieved until between the ages 4-6. Even once that occurs, further booster shots are needed. As previously mentioned, the one suspected contributing factor is that protection from such vaccines may not last as long as doctors once thought. Therefore, some individuals who were once thought to be protected are in fact not.

Another relevant point is that since we are not able to fully protect babies, the next best thing we can do is keep those around them from exposing them to the disease. What this entails is making sure adults keep up on their boosters. Part of the reason for the lack of effectiveness for the whopping cough vaccine has to do with a change made in the formulation of the shot in 1997. Originally, the vaccine was administered in a whole-cell form, which was later replaced with an acellular version, meaning that only certain parts of the cells were contained in the vaccine.

Since the majority of the 18,000 whopping cough cases have occurred within mainly 13 and 14 year olds who have received the booster, many officials are pointing to the type of vaccine as being the main contributing factor. This is especially true when taking into consideration the fact that such children would have received the acellular version of the vaccine based on the year they were born.

Based on our expanding knowledge of the ability of various microorganisms to evolve in regard to antibiotic resistance, the current situation can teach us several lessons. As always, we need to be proactive and do whatever we can to protect those who face the highest risk. We also need to remember that certain effective medical interventions aimed at microorganisms can lose their effectiveness over time. We therefore need to do whatever we can to stay on top of these various germs, before they have the opportunity to cause us further harm. While whopping cough is far different from germs like MRSA and C. diff in terms of its history and ability to be prevented through vaccinations, it still highlights the fact that we are fighting many enemies that are blind to the naked eye.



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