The past several years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of pertussis (more commonly known as whooping cough) cases in areas around the country. California has been especially hard hit: Already this year, ten children there have died after being infected. Nine of them were under two months old, the age at which the first dose of the pertussis vaccine is administered. (According to the California Department of Public Health (pdf), there were 7,297 pertussis infections in the state through November 30. That’s the most number of cases since 1947, which was before the pertussis vaccine was put into widespread use.)
One side effect of these outbreaks has been increased awareness that teenagers and adults need regular pertussis boosters–and that even those fully people who are fully vaccinated are not necessarily immune. (No vaccine is 100 percent effective. There’ll be more on that in a later post.) Recently, a pair of fully vaccinated teenagers in Washington, DC were diagnosed with whooping cough. As a result, the parents of children at the Sidwell Friends School–including, I assume, President and Mrs. Obama, whose two daughters are enrolled there–received the following e-mail:
AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM THE SCHOOL NURSES
The District of Columbia Department of Health has issued an advisory report of two confirmed cases of Pertussis (whooping cough) in children less than 18 years of age. Both cases were current on their Pertussis vaccinations. Pertussis cases have increased across the country. The DC Department of Health has not yet observed a significant increase this year in Pertussis cases but the Virginia Department of Health has recently posted on its website a warning that Pertussis incidence in the state is increasing. We do not know of any advisories posted by the Maryland Department of Health.
Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that is spread via respiratory droplets. The incubation period (i.e. the time it takes between being exposed to the illness and the development of signs and symptoms) is between 4 and 21 days, but more commonly evolves over 7 to 10 days. The illness generally begins as a common cold with a low-grade fever, developing into a very distinctive-sounding cough and more severe illness after two weeks. Pertussis can be a very serious disease, especially among infants.
If your child is 11 years of age or older and has not received the Tetanus/Diptheria/Pertussis booster, please contact your pediatrician for advice.
Please see the CDC website for more information on this illness by clicking here.
Please pay particular attention if a family member develops a persistent cough that lasts for several weeks or experiences the classic sound of the “whoop” that occurs during a coughing spasm. To hear the whooping cough sound, click here.
If you have any concerns, please contact the School Nurses.
Please notify the School if your child is diagnosed with this illness.