Pertussis rates are increasing, and under-vaccination is not the culprit according to Tara Parker-Pope's article in today's New York Times. Her description of devastating coughing fits in her fully vaccinated 11-year-old daughter is enough to send you packing to the doctor for a booster shot. Pertussis (also known as whooping cough) rates are up 7-fold from last year in California and are also up in Pennsylvania. Overall, as many as 3 million Americans may get the infection this year.
It's bad enough that adolescents and adults may experience pertussis as "the 100-day cough" (it just doesn't go away), but babies can die of the infection. Many of them become infected before they're old enough to get the vaccine and are exposed to adults or teens with pertussis.
And why are an increasing number of adults, and especially teens getting sick? The problem seems to be waning immunity even after getting all the recommended immunizations. And you know all the warnings we get about not demanding antibiotics from our doctors for head colds? Well, it's possible that back in the day when doctors did hand out antibiotics for what appeared to be colds, they were actually treating early pertussis. No way should we routinely take antibiotics for colds, but we could get tested for pertussis more often. Unfortunately, lab tests for pertussis are pretty sketchy right now.
As I wrote earlier this summer, my doctor gave me a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis) vaccine this spring. You can ask about it too. To hear what whooping cough sounds like, check out WhoopingCough.net, a site maintained by a British doc who recommends that if necessary you record your cough so your doctor can hear it (in case there's a problem with diagnosis). Think your cough doesn't matter? This baby probably caught the infection from an adult, maybe even a parent or grandparent: