Whooping cough on the rise

The number of whooping cough cases in the nation hit a record high in 2012, with Pennsylvania contributing significantly.

Based on numbers recorded since 2005, Pennsylvania suffered its worst year for whooping cough in 2012, with 1,552 confirmed cases and 290 probable cases, state Department of Health spokeswoman Kait Gillis said Monday.

Blair County had five confirmed cases and seven probable cases.

The combined number of 12 cases is more than twice the combined number of five reported for Blair County in 2011, three in 2010 and two in 2009, Gillis said.

“There has been a resurgence, not only in Pennsylvania but also in the nation,” Gillis said.

Penn State’s University Park campus confirmed two whooping cough cases in September.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released preliminary figures Friday, identified 2012 as the worst year for whooping cough in nearly six decades, with 41,880 cases. While a final tally is expected to be higher, the CDC said the number is not expected to surpass the nearly 63,000 nationwide cases reported in 1955.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease that can strike people of any age but is most dangerous to children.

While it usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough, it later generates severe coughing and vomiting. It used to be a common threat with hundreds of thousands of cases reported annually, until a vaccine was introduced in the 1940s.

After the number of whooping cough cases started to climb during the 1990s and jumped to 27,000 in 2010, a study found that the whooping cough vaccine being given was losing its effectiveness after three years.

While health officials have since recommended booster shots to counter that, they also say that whooping cough ebbs and flows in multi-year cycles.

“I think the numbers are going to trend up,” Dr. Tom Clark of the CDC said.

Another possible reason behind the increase, Gillis said, is a lack of protection.

“Some people don’t want to get vaccinated. For religious reasons or for other reasons, they’re choosing not to be vaccinated,” she said.

Yet the best option to address the increase in whooping cough cases, Gillis said, is vaccination.

“We urge all Pennsylvanians to be protected … and that includes adults who should get a booster shot every 10 years,” she said.

That advice seems to be working for patients of Dr. Kim Swindell, a pediatrician with Nason Hospital, who said that he has not seen any recent cases of whooping cough.

“Immunization – most of our clients are immunized. That’s probably the reason why we’re not,” he said.

Children are routinely vaccinated for pertussis with five doses, beginning at 2 months and the final one between 4 and 6 years old. Booster shots are recommended thereafter.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456. The Associated Press contributed to this story.