FLORENCE — The whooping cough. Isn’t that something your grandmother used to get?
Maybe, but the well-worn disease, formally known as pertussis, is still around and it can still be a problem.
As another school year starts – the disease is highly contagious, hence, likely to spread when children are in contact with large numbers of their peers – local officials say that parents still need to be on guard. So far, this has been a mild year for whooping cough in South Carolina. But some other states have been hit hard, and a breakout is never very far away.
Dr. Linda Bell, director at South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Clinical Services, said there’s always a risk for higher numbers of whooping cough if citizens aren’t careful.
“Don’t forget a few years ago [in 2010] we had a peak in South Carolina,” said Bell. “We can expect to see another cluster of increase and remain at risk if we don’t have high vaccination coverage rates.”
Whooping cough, which, due to the prevalence of vaccines is now more a disease of older children and adults, affects more than 22,000 people each year. It’s not fatal in most cases, but it can kill and it can have complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that half of infants less than 1 year old contracting whooping cough have to be hospitalized, one in four infants get pneumonia and one in 100 hospitalized infants will die. Whooping cough affects all ages.
So far this year, South Carolina has 106 reported cases, but other states are faring much worse. Earlier this month, Wisconsin ranked first nationally with Washington and Minnesota close behind in reported cases.
Said Bell, “We’d like to see vaccination coverage go up so we’re not one of those states that will have outbreaks. Even the cases we’ve seen are preventable. The fact that we continue to see any cases for a vaccine preventable disease is a concern.”
Two years ago pertussis reached outbreak proportions in South Carolina, with 188 reported cases, but the state only had 78 in 2011. Bell said outbreaks of the disease are cyclical in nature, occurring every three to five years.
South Carolina currently ranks third worst nationwide in coverage for adolescents receiving the vaccine that prevents whooping cough. Bell said to improve protection against pertussis, the vaccine’s booster will be an entry requirement for the 2013-14 school year. “A child’s greatest risk right now is pertussis, and parents should get vaccinated for the safety of their own children,” Bell said. “Coverage for adults is critical too because they continue to be a source of the disease. Symptoms tend to be milder in adults, and it may be unrecognized but they transmit it to the youngest at highest risk.”