Babies get their first whooping cough vaccine at 2 months. (Kenneth Pornillos/World Bank via Flickr)
By April Dembosky
Public health officials are trying to understand why Latino babies are contracting whooping cough at much higher rates than other babies.
California is battling the worst whooping cough epidemic in 70 years. Nearly 10,000 cases have been reported in the state so far this year, and babies are especially prone to hospitalization or even death.
Six out of 10 infants who have become ill during the current outbreak are Latino. Evidence explaining this is inconclusive, but experts have a few theories that range from a lack of Spanish language outreach to Latino cultural practices. Continue reading
Napa has the second highest rate of the disease. (Esparrow1/Flickr)
By Lynne Shallcross
It’s been a little over a month since California declared a whooping cough epidemic, and according to the most recent data from the state, three neighboring Bay Area counties have the highest rates of the disease statewide: Sonoma, Napa and Marin.
Sonoma County’s rate of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is almost 120 cases per 100,000 people. Napa County’s rate is 90 per 100,000, and Marin’s rate is 65 per 100,000.
Sonoma County’s interim health officer, Karen Holbrook, says the number of cases reported each week has peaked and is now declining.
“It’s not what the state is experiencing as a whole, but we are coming down,” Holbrook says. “Will that hold indefinitely remains to be seen.”
Holbrook says California is seeing a whooping cough epidemic partly because the disease is cyclical, with cases spiking every three to five years. Continue reading
A vial containing the acellular pertussis vaccine (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
In the two weeks since California health officials declared a whooping cough epidemic, the state has added 1,100 more cases, officials with the California Department of Public Health said Friday.
That brings the total number of cases to 4,558. A third infant died of the disease recently. The baby, from Sacramento County, had started showing symptoms at just 3 weeks of age. The baby was hospitalized for more than a year and then passed away.
Infants are at particular risk because they cannot be vaccinated until they are several weeks old. Generally, the recommendation is that babies receive the first dose of vaccine at 8 weeks, but in light of the epidemic, state health officials say babies can be vaccinated at 6 weeks.
A vial containing the acellular pertussis vaccine. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
A new rise in whooping cough cases in California is raising questions among doctors about whether there are problems with the current vaccine. California public health data show a spike in whooping cough cases in 2013 compared to the year before, and last week officials confirmed the first death from the disease since the major outbreak of 2010: an infant in Riverside.
“The attempt at making vaccines safer has created a potential lapse in protection.”
Whooping cough, or pertussis as it is referred to in medical circles, is cyclical in nature and tends to peak every three to five years. But doctors are now finding evidence that the new vaccine may start to wear off on a similar timeline, despite medical recommendations that allow for a span of eight years between booster shots.
“The efficacy of the new vaccine is really good, it works. It’s just that it wanes, and it wanes more quickly,” said Dr. Michael Witte, a pediatrician in Pt. Reyes, north of San Francisco.
The new acellular whooping cough vaccine was introduced in the 1990s. It has fewer side effects than the earlier whole-cell vaccine that had been in use since the 1940s. By 2001, the old vaccine was completely phased out. So while many adolescent kids have received boosters of the new vaccine, they would have gotten shots when they were babies that included the old vaccine. Continue reading
Each green circle depicts a whooping cough outbreak this year. (Map: Council on Foreign Relations)
As the map illustrates, many areas in the country are in the grip of whooping cough outbreaks, everywhere but California. More on California in a minute. Let’s first take a look at a new(ish) vaccine and see how its limitations might be contributing to the outbreaks.
In the 1990s, the U.S. and other developed countries switched from one kind of vaccine against whooping cough (also called pertussis) to another. The older vaccine was very effective but there were concerns about a rare side effect, a neurological disorder, which may (or may not) have been connected to the vaccine. More commonly, the vaccine caused the same minor side effects that we traditionally associate with shots: redness, soreness at the injection site, etc. Except that with the old pertussis vaccine, the side effects occurred more frequently.
In her wired.com blog noted science reporter Maryn McKenna recaps the research and wonders if there could have been an unexpected trade-off with this new vaccine — that it is less effective and therefore contributing to the outbreaks we’re seeing now. From McKenna’s blog Superbug: Continue reading
Pharmacist administers whooping cough vaccine. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
You know public health is working when nothing bad happens. Last year, for the first time in 20 years, California had no deaths from whooping cough, a highly contagious illness also called pertussis.
The California Department of Public Health credits a statewide vaccination effort which followed a 2010 outbreak when 9,000 Californians were diagnosed and nine infants died. In 2011, in addition to no deaths, the number of cases of the illness dropped to 3,000.
As the Los Angeles Times reports: Continue reading