The state of California recently reported an alarming level of whooping cough cases this year, with the case count at 5,393 as of July 8th. The California Department of Public Health has officially declared this a Whooping Cough epidemic. The number of cases doubled this year from 2013, with children being hardest hit with the epidemic. Why is there a sudden spike in the number of Whooping Cough cases in California?
Whooping Cough is a respiratory infection triggered by the bacterium Bordetella Pertussis. It is highly contagious and is spread between person to person through sneezing and coughing. Health experts contribute parents refusal to vaccinate their children as part of the reason for the higher infection rate. With recent studies and theories circulating that vaccinations can cause autism and other long term health problems, many parents are foregoing the traditional route of vaccinating their children. In fact, 2% of California residents file personal belief exemptions with the state each year to avoid vaccinating their children.
Jessica Atwell, a graduate student at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, conducted a study to see if there was a correlation between higher infection rates in areas where children received no vaccinations. Her study found there was, with a 2 ½ times more likely rate of Whooping Cough cases in areas where personal belief exemptions were high. These children are at higher risk of contracting the Whooping Cough.
Health experts also believe the quality of the vaccination has declined. The whole-cell vaccination of the past, was replaced with a new acellular version a few years back due to safety concerns. The whole-cell vaccination had side effects of high fever and convulsions. However, research conducted by Dr. Mark Sawyer, an infectious disease specialist at Rady’s Children’s Hopsital, showed the whole-cell version to be more effective than the acellular version. Preteens and teenagers who received the acellular vaccination were still infected with the Whooping Cough. The acellular vaccination had worn off or was simply ineffective.
Whooping Cough, like most respiratory infections, is treatable and not likely to be life threatening in healthy adults and young adolescences who have strong developed immune systems. It is life threatening though to infants whom do not have developed immune systems equipped to fight off a bacterium Bordetella Pertussis infection. To date, the Whooping Cough has claimed the lives of three infants in the Sacramento, California area.
Health officials recommend parents vaccinate their children if they have not done so yet as the outbreaks appear to be occurring mostly on school grounds. They also recommend parents to give their children booster shots if their children have already received the acellular vaccination.
Shute, Nancy. “Vaccine Refusals Fueled California’s Whooping Cough Epidemic.” NPR. September 30, 2013. Accessed September 16, 2014.
Allen, Henry. “World Socialist Web Site.” California’s Whooping Cough Epidemic. July 12, 2014. Accessed September 16, 2014.