Whooping cough making a comeback - Albuquerque Journal

Whooping cough making a comeback

After a week with a dry cough, 16-year-old Ian McCracken started experiencing middle-of-the-night coughing fits so severe he couldn’t talk. He returned home from his first trip to the urgent care clinic in mid-July with an inhaler and a five-day course of steroids.

The coughing fits didn’t abate, and after a few days, Ian jumped out of bed and got his mom’s attention by clapping his hands, unable to get any words out. The Decatur, Ga., teenager gasped for air, tears running down his face.

His mother, Karen Andes, took her son to another doctor, who suggested Ian may have reflux.

But a combination of Andes’ medical background (she’s an assistant professor of global health at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University) and a mother’s intuition told her something else was tormenting her son – pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

Whooping cough, a potentially life-threatening childhood illness, all but disappeared in the 1940s after a vaccine was developed. But in recent decades, the illness has been making a comeback. Changes in the vaccine and waning immunity are likely contributing to the resurgence of the illness, according to experts.

In recent years, there have been outbreaks not seen since the 1950s.

In 2012, the United States had the highest number of whooping cough cases in more than 50 years, with 48,277 reported cases and 20 deaths. Most of the deaths occurred among infants, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The highly contagious respiratory illness is not always on the radar of doctors and can be mistaken for a cold, bronchitis, reflux. The Georgia Department of Health said it’s not uncommon for someone to see two, even three doctors before getting a correct diagnosis.

Andes insisted on getting her son tested for whooping cough. Results from a nose culture came back positive.

“At first, I felt relieved, and even a bit proud of myself,” Andes said, “but then the reality sunk in that we may be in for more difficult nights.”

The older vaccine for whooping cough was phased out in the late 1990s. It carried a high risk of serious, but temporary, side effects like pain and swelling at the site of injection, as well as serious complications, such as febrile convulsions, which are fits or seizures caused by a sudden change in a child’s body temperature, and loss of consciousness. One study by researchers at Kaiser Permanente’s Vaccine Study Center in Oakland, Calif., found the newer pertussis vaccine, while safer and with fewer side effects than the older version, is not as effective.

The 2016 study found that the booster vaccine known as Tdap provides moderate protection against whooping cough during the first year after vaccination, but its effectiveness wanes to less than 9 percent after four years among teenagers who have received only a newer form of the whooping cough vaccine (known as acellular pertussis vaccine) as infants and children.

Pertussis can cause serious illness in people of all ages and can even be life-threatening, especially in babies. About half of babies less than a year old who get pertussis need treatment in a hospital, according to the CDC. The illness can have a lasting effect on lung function, leaving people with shortness of breath.

Meanwhile, a team of researchers, including scientists from the University of Georgia, found in a new study that while some people lose immunity relatively quickly, the vaccine can be protective for many decades. The study, published in a March issue of Science Translational Medicine, also found that the dwindling number of people still alive who survived pertussis infections in the days before vaccination and therefore gained lifelong immunity, is also playing a role in the resurgence. When the vaccine was first introduced in the 1940s, there were very high rates of vaccination, which led to an overall decrease in transmission.

Senior author Pejman Rohani, who has a joint appointment in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine and the Odum School of Ecology, said the number of people who are susceptible to contracting pertussis is slowly rising, setting the stage for an increase in the number of new cases, especially in older individuals. This is known as the “end of the honeymoon” period, he said.

And even though the effectiveness of vaccines may wane over time, experts say people should still make sure to get them. Skipping the vaccines, Rohani said, “would be a terrible idea, especially the routine scheduled and maternal vaccination.”

He added that researchers are still working on deciding whether people should get more frequent booster vaccinations.

Meanwhile, Ian, who was fully vaccinated against whooping cough, completed a round of antibiotics and is doing better. But he still has a lingering cough and a full recovery could take months.


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

taboola desktop

MORE ARTICLES LIKE THIS

1
State accepting more types of cannabis license applications
ABQnews Seeker
New Mexico's Cannabis Control Division announced ... New Mexico's Cannabis Control Division announced Tuesday that it is now accepting license applications for all cannabis-business types, including manufacturing and retail.
2
City Council denies $110 million facilities plan
ABQnews Seeker
New bonds included in package would ... New bonds included in package would have taken 19 years to pay off
3
Pryor's buzzer beater in OT gives NMSU heated win ...
ABQnews Seeker
Nate Pryor's overtime buzzer beater gave ... Nate Pryor's overtime buzzer beater gave NSMU a win over rival UNM in front of 13,019 fans in the Pit before emphatically celebrating on ...
4
NMSU nursing student sings national anthem in Diné Bizaad
ABQnews Seeker
Vanisha Sam hopes to work closely ... Vanisha Sam hopes to work closely with the Navajo people and help impact the community via health care
5
Personal finance education belongs in PED standards
From the newspaper
Two of three private-sector workers in ... Two of three private-sector workers in NM have saved nothing for retirement
6
Editorial: Take council seat to court
Editorials
It's unfortunate city leaders chose to ... It's unfortunate city leaders chose to hold Monday's City Council meeting under a cloud ...
7
Sandoval County maps ignore Native groups' concerns
From the newspaper
Gerrymandered plan by GOP contractor would ... Gerrymandered plan by GOP contractor would favor party, silence many others
8
Editorial: Delegation on right La Luz Trail track
Editorials
Why does the campaign to get ... Why does the campaign to get a special permit to resurrect La Luz Trail Run look like a marathon rat ...
9
Woman tries to set fire to the Islamic Center
ABQnews Seeker
Mosque officials believe she also tried ... Mosque officials believe she also tried to start a fire inside the center on Nov. 7