Whooping Cough Outbreaks and Epidemics: Pertussis 2012 Update


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Bordetella pertussis: Widespread outbreaks across the U.S. Photo by: Nathan Reading

Outbreaks of Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, are sweeping the nation: Which areas and populations are being hit hardest – and what makes this year different?

Pertussis a highly infectious disease that is vaccine-preventable and peaks in the United States every three to five years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2010 there were 27,550 cases in the United States; this was the most number of cases since 1959 when there were 40,000 reported cases.

In 2012, whooping cough outbreaks and epidemics are a concern, and the disease has already become prevalent in 48 states and Washington D.C.

The reason for the early peak that’s showing up in 2012, according to the CDC, is threefold:

  • Health professionals are improving in areas such as education, better testing for the disease and an improved reporting system.
  • The pertussis bacteria is circulating more in the population.

There is a waning immunity – fewer people are immune to whooping cough than before. The vaccine that we use now, DTaP, may not protect us as long as the vaccine DTP vaccine that was used in the 1990’s. The difference is that the DTaP vaccine is made without cells (acelluar) and is supposed to be safer that the DTP vaccine, made with whole cells.

Whooping Cough Outbreaks

Some of the outbreaks in the United Sates include Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Washington State. An outbreak is when there is an unexpected number of cases, compared to the normal range in a defined area or season, while an epidemic exists when the spread of the disease is faster and more extreme than normal.

  • Minnesota is experiencing a major outbreak of whooping cough. In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that they had 661 cases of pertussis. According to the Minnesota Health Department, as of November 15, 2012 they have had 4,105 cases – a huge increase over last year. Children ages 9 to 12 make up most of the cases here, but children ages one to eight and kids age 13 to 18 are share the dubious honor of being the next most common age group to have pertussis in Minnesota. Hennepin County alone has 1,033 cases of whooping cough, making it the most-affected county in Minnesota.
  • Wisconsin is also dealing with an outbreak of pertussis. In 2011 Wisconsin had 1,192 probable and confirmed cases, according to the CDC, but as of October 15, 2012 they have reported 4, 192 probable and confirmed cases. The counties with the most cases are Dane, Waukesha, and Milwaukee; approximately half of the cases were in children ages five to 14 years old.
  • Washington State is suffering from an epidemic of pertussis, according to the CDC – In 2011 Washington had 642 cases, as of November 10, 2012 they have 4,501 cases. The age groups with the highest rate of infection in Washington are under a year old, and children ages 10-13 years old. Pertussis is so wide spread in Washington, that there is only one county that does not have any cases.

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