A Sound you NEVER want to hear

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Take a listen to this.  Pretty awful, huh? 

That is a sound that we’re unfortunately starting to hear more and more after decades of sweet silence.  That, my friends, is Whooping Cough. 

The hallmark of Whooping Cough, or Pertussis, are those horrible bouts of coughing followed by quick, painful gasps of breath that make a “whoop” sound.  It’s extremely contagious and can last for a long time – it used to be known as the “100 Day Cough.”  

Whooping Cough may have a cute name, but it is a very serious and highly contagious illness.  Prior to the development of the pertussis vaccine, one in 200 children died of whooping cough – more than any other childhood disease.  At its peak in the 1920’s and 30’s, over 250,000 people caught Pertussis and about 9,000 of them died.  Thanks to the introduction of the vaccine in the 1940’s, the number of cases dropped by more than 99%; by 1976, there were only 1,010 cases reported.

The vaccine did have some problems.  It used a “whole cell” formula and caused reactions ranging from mild swelling and redness at the site of the injection to life threatening problems like seizures and permanent neurological damage.  Because of these problems many people were afraid to get the vaccine, and even though manufacturers have since developed an effective and much safer acellular version, this fear persists today.  Unfortunately, the combination of some people not getting vaccinated and the normal waning of immunity that occurs in those people who did have lead to a widespread resurgence of the illness.

So far this year (as of June 15th), there have been 910 confirmed cases – including 5 infant deaths – in California alone.  (Babies are especially vulnerable to whooping cough because of their small airways and because the immunizations they receive haven’t had time to kick in yet.)  Here in Franklin County, local health officials have issued a public health alert because as of July 12th, we’ve had 135 confirmed cases – compared to only 76 cases at the same time last year.  Ohio is now requiring a booster immunization that contains Pertussis (as well as diphtheria and tetanus) for kids entering 7th grade.  

Even though you’re way past seventh grade at this point, you should be sure to get a Pertussis booster if you haven’t had one recently.  Not only will you decrease your own chances of coughing for 100 days, but you’ll keep the whole community – especially those babies – safer and healthier by limiting the spread of this terrible disease.

If you have any questions about the Pertussis vaccine (called a “Tdap”), or would like to make an appointment to get one, contact the Preventive Medicine Coordinator at Student Health Services.  

Jo Hanna Friend D’Epiro, PA-C, MPH
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

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