Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Whooping Cough Makes a Comeback

Along with measles, whooping cough (pertussis) is a disease that had nearly been eliminated from the civilized world. Until, that is, anti-vaccine fanatics came along with their mad theories and sad fear of medicine that actually works. Before the vaccine, pertussis was a major killer of children:
There were 36,000 deaths from pertussis and pertussis-related complications between 1926 and 1930, and in 1934 there were 260,000 reported cases of pertussis.
By 1976, thanks to the vaccine,there were fewer than 1,000 cases of pertussis in the US. But now:
In Michigan, 315 cases were reported in 2008, according to the state Department of Community Health. A year later, the incidence of whooping cough had nearly tripled to 902 reported cases. And by 2010, the number of reported cases in Michigan had risen to 1,564.

Similar outbreaks have been seen in other states as well. In California, nearly 10,000 cases of whooping cough were reported in 2010 -- the most since the 1940s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten babies died.
Part of the danger with whooping cough is that the modern vaccine conveys imperfect immunity that wanes over time, leaving communities vulnerable to outbreaks if they occur. The old vaccine, which used whole killed cells, worked great, but the initial response was so powerful it sickened many children and scared many parents. So now we use a vaccine made with some proteins from the virus.

We may have to rethink that, though, as long as thousands of American and European parents refuse to avail themselves of the one kind of medicine that really saves millions of lives every year.

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