"Epidemic" isn't a word to throw around lightly, but when it comes to whooping cough (or pertussis) that's precisely what health officials say we have on our hands in Washington. And recent research suggests that even those who've been vaccinated for the illness stand a surprising risk of getting sick.
This, according to folks who calculate such things, classifies as an epidemic. The Q13 story specifically notes that Snohomish County has been particularly hard hit, having notched the highest number of reported whooping cough cases in the last 30 years.
As the Q13 story notes:
According to Snohomish County Health District officials, there are now more than 500 reported cases of whooping cough in Snohomish County, nearly double the number of people sickened in the county during all of last year.
Rita Mell, director of the Snohomish Health District's vaccine and preventable disease program, said the whooping cough outbreak is the worst the county has seen in a very long time.
Naturally, health officials in Snohomish County are urging kids to get vaccinated for whooping cough - but a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that route might not be as effective as once thought.
Since the early 1990s a safer version of the whooping cough vaccine has been used in an attempt to reduce side effects with the previous vaccine - including pain and swelling at the injection site, fever, and according to the Associated Press "apparently, in rare cases, brain damage."
This new vaccine however, now that researchers have finally been able to review sufficient data from children who were never exposed to the previous vaccine in the roaring '90s, has proven to be strikingly less effective.
As the Associated Press noted Wednesday:
A study published in Wednesday's New England Journal of Medicine found that the protective effect weakens dramatically soon after a youngster gets the last of the five recommended shots around age 6.
The protection rate falls from about 95 percent to 71 percent within five years, said researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Research Center in Oakland, Calif.
The U.S. has had more than 26,000 whooping cough cases so far this year, including more than 10,000 in children ages 7 to 10.
"The substantial majority of the cases are explained by this waning immunity," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.
Dr. Nicola Klein and her colleagues looked at children ages 4 to 12 who received their health care through Kaiser Permanente Northern California from 2006 to 2011. They compared 277 fully vaccinated youngsters who got whooping cough to similar, vaccinated children who didn't.
The researchers found that the risk of getting whooping cough increases by about 42 percent a year after a child's last dose of vaccine.
While Dr. Tom Clark of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells the Associated Press "there's nothing in the pipeline that's close," when it comes to developing a new, more-effective vaccine, that's exactly what many health officials are calling for. In the meantime, health officials are considering recommending another booster shot for children before the age of 11, and other methods of strengthening the existing whooping cough vaccine are being discussed.
When it comes to our whooping cough epidemic, it's tempting to point a finger at the vocal contingent of anti-vaccine parents in our state. However, the Centers for Disease Control tells the AP unvaccinated children really aren't at the root of the problem, with officials pointing out that most of the reported cases of whooping cough have been found in vaccinated kids.
Previously on The Daily Weekly: