If you have been following the news, you are probably aware of the whooping cough outbreak, and probably wonder why there is an outbreak in the first place, considering there’s been a vaccine for the disease for some 70 years.
But you are probably also wondering: WTF is whooping cough and is it going to kill me?
Well, we’ve got some answers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the technical name for whooping cough is pertussis.
The malady causes an “uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breathes which result in a ‘whooping’ sound. Pertussis most commonly affects infants and young children and can be fatal, especially in babies less than 1 year of age.”
It’s caused by bacteria, one Bordetella pertussis, which attach to the hairs lining the inside of the respiratory system. This causes inflammation, prompting coughing. The germs get spread by close contact, such as being around other people who are coughing and sneezing who have the disease.
Whooping cough is most dangerous for infants, as more than half of infants who contract it have to be hospitalized. In small babies, whooping cough is often manifested as “apnea” — AKA a “pause in breathing.”
Other symptoms include runny nose and low-grade fever. If you get whooping cough, you are also at greater risk of contracting other respiratory infections.
Right now, the Washington Post notes, we seem to be in the midst of the worst outbreak in 50 years, with 18,000 cases in 2012, nine of which were fatal.
The upswing is most prominent in Washington, where there’s been a 13-fold increase in cases compared to last year, prompting state health authorities to declare an epidemic this spring.
In New York, whooping cough cases have tripled compared to 2011, with 1,288 cases reported in the state. In the City, there have been 187 cases and 333 on Long Island, according to The Associated Press.
The best way not to get whooping cough is to get vaccinated.
And that’s also one of the problems. Though U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has pushed for free vaccinations, that might not be enough (though it’s def a step in the right direction.)
For starters, the vaccine might not work flawlessly.
Though the current version does not cause the same nasty side effects as earlier formulas, the WashPo notes that it’s not quite as effective as the pre-1990s one
Also, a lot of people refuse immunizations even if they CAN access them.
Explains Sarah Kliff:
“Because no immunization is 100% effective, plus the fact that some people CAN’T receive immunizations, 85-95 percent of the population needs to be immunized to protect all of us. When too many people fail to immunize their children against preventable diseases, those viruses and bacteria are able to break through growing holes in the herd and cause worse and worse outbreaks. That is definitely what we are seeing now with pertussis. But, it has also happened with measles and mumps.”
Long story short, whooping cough is dangerous — especially to babies and kids — and we’re in the midst of an outbreak.
Though this likely won’t result in some 28 Days Later (or Outbreak ) scenario, get vaccinated if you’re not.
And check to see whether you need a booster shot if you are — especially if you’re going to be hanging around kids.
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.