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Myths & Half-Truths Associated With Whooping Cough

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(Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

CBS Charlotte (con't)

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(CBS Charlotte) — Whooping Cough, also known as Pertussis, is a serious respiratory infection that is especially deadly in infants and children.

Symptoms of whooping cough surfaced in the 16th Century — but the first cases were not recognized (diagnosed) until the early 1900′s. In the United States, people began getting vaccinated in the early 1940′s.

With widespread vaccination, by the mid 70′s, the rate at which people in our country were diagnosed with whooping cough decreased — by over 99 percent.

Despite the safety and effectiveness of the pertussis vaccine, there are many falsehoods and half-truths that surround whooping cough and the vaccine.

Myths and Half-truths

1. Whooping Cough is not a major concern today, and incidents of the illness remain low.

Reality: In recent years, incidents of whooping cough have reached epidemic levels in several states throughout the United States.

2. Even when vaccinated, most people still get whooping cough.

Reality: This fact needs to be reiterated: With widespread vaccination, by the mid 70′s, the rate at which people in our country were diagnosed with whooping cough decreased — by over 99 percent.

However, the vaccine does not provide lifelong immunity from whooping cough. In the 90′s the vaccine was reformulated and is now considered too weak to offer long-lasting immunity.

Further research suggests that the vaccine may only be effective for three to six years, however, pertussis is one of the most preventable illnesses in the world – when people are vaccinated on an ongoing basis. Moreover, people who have been diagnosed with whooping cough in the past are not immune. They need to be vaccinated, as does the rest of the population, to prevent the spread of whooping cough.

As previously mentioned, infants and children are more susceptible to whooping cough and complications that can arise from the illness. Women are advised to get vaccinated during each pregnancy to help protect their infants from the illness until the infant can be vaccinated — upon turning 2-months-old. The infant schedule for receiving the pertussis vaccine, also known as DTaP, is at two, four, six, and 15–18 months old. These children will also need a booster shot between three to six years of age, in addition to other booster shots throughout their lifetime.

3. The pertussis vaccine is dangerous and can cause brain injury and even death.

Reality: While this has been suggested, it has never been proven. Furthermore, in the 90′s, the Journal of American Medical Association labeled this viewpoint as a “myth.” Further research into these allegations revealed that these symptoms were caused by an unrelated condition, infantile epilepsy, and were not a result of getting the pertussis vaccine.

Still, speculation of brain injury and death due to the vaccine led to the anti-DPT movement of the 70′s. Several years later, incidents of whooping cough were being reported at an alarming rate.

Today, schools across the country offer exemptions for various vaccines, including the DTaP vaccine. These exemptions are usually seen in clusters and are due to personal belief that the vaccine may be harmful, or due to religious reasons.

Earlier this year, nearly 1400 students in several counties in North Carolina faced suspension for lack of proof that they had received the vaccine, or that they were exempt from receiving the vaccine.

Protect Yourself/Protect Others

In 2012, a federal advisory panel recommended that all adults living in the United States get vaccinated for pertussis.

Most healthy adults who are diagnosed with whooping cough will recover without any serious complications, however, not being vaccinated increases the likelihood of transmitting the illness to infants and children, who are more susceptible to serious complications as a result of the illness. Therefore, it is beneficial not only to the individual, but to the community that everyone stay current on DTaP vaccinations.

Symptoms Of Whooping Cough

After coming in contact with someone who has whooping cough, symptoms can appear within one to three weeks. Symptoms can vary person to person but generally include:

- nasal and chest congestion/runny nose

- sneezing

- fever

- red, watery, itchy eyes

- cough

While you may believe you are initially suffering from the common cold, as the illnesses progresses, your symptoms get worse. While infected with whooping cough, you will begin to suffer from uncontrollable coughing fits that can lead to vomiting and may sound like a “whoop” at the end of each cough. You will feel generally unwell, until you begin to recover.

In children, the symptoms can be more severe and the infection itself can lead to complications, such as pneumonia and dehydration. Infants and children who are diagnosed with whooping cough are more likely to be hospitalized than adults. Nearly 75 percent of infants under 6-months-old in the U.S. who are diagnosed with whooping cough, will be hospitalized.

Whooping Cough In North Carolina 

To date in 2013, there have been over 300 cases of whooping cough reported in North Carolina — included a 3-week-old infant who died from the illness last month.

-Nichole Jaworski, CBS Charlotte

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