The last time I updated the California Whooping Cough epidemic was in late July, and at that time 6 children had already died from this preventable disease.
As of the September 14th report, 3 more babies have died. California is on track to see the worst Pertussis (Whooping Cough) outbreak in 55 years.
Pertussis rates going the wrong way
As you can see, in the early 1980s Pertussis was practically eliminated – thanks to the introduction of an effective Pertussis vaccine in the 1940s. Before that was available, several thousand children died each year in the United States from Whooping cough.
But the incidence of Whooping cough has been creeping back up over the past 30 years (and not just in California), and large regional outbreaks occur every few years.
That resurgence is due in part to the reluctance of some parents to get their kids vaccinated, but is also due to a lack of adults and adolescents getting their recommended booster shots.
As of 9/14/2010, California reports 4,017 confirmed, probable and suspect cases of pertussis for 2010, making for a state rate of 10.3 cases/100,000.
This is the most cases since 1955 when 4,949 cases were reported,and the highest incidence since 1962, when a rate of 10.9 cases/100,000 was reported.
Up until now, the worst year in the past 40 was in 2005 when 3,182 cases reported.
Nine infant deaths have been reported of which 8 (89%) were Hispanic.
Eight of the fatalities were among infants less than 2 months of age who had not received any doses of the Pertussis vaccine. The remainder was a 2-month old preemie that had received only one dose of the vaccine just 15 days prior to falling ill.
Prevention is through vaccination, but since the vaccine offered is `inactivated’ (contains no live bacteria), it requires repeated doses during childhood and a booster shot as adults.
Although the numbers are small, in recent years an increasing number of parents are filing “personal belief exemptions”, to avoid vaccinating their children.
California, like all states, requires that all students be vaccinated against Whooping Cough before entering school, but parents can ask for their children to be exempted from the program if vaccines run contrary to their religious or personal beliefs.
The following information comes from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
It is law in all US states that children be properly immunized before attending school. However, in addition to medical exemptions offered in each state, 48 states allow for religious exemptions and 21a states allow personal belief exemptions for daycare and school.
(Click to view)
Other states, including Idaho, Arkansas, and Texas are reporting outbreaks of Pertussis this year as well.
Whether due to activism or apathy, a declining rate of vaccination for preventable diseases like Whooping Cough will almost certainly lead to more cases – and more deaths – in our communities down the road.
For another perspective on all this, you might want to read Maryn McKenna’s post on Pertussis from last July.