A small cluster of whooping cough cases in Montgomery County is a reminder that the pertussis vaccine works, but not as well as health officials would like.
The Abington School District reported a higher than usual number of students with whooping cough this year, but Frank Custer, a county spokesman, said the numbers are in line with recent years.
“So far this year, this is pretty much an average year, we’ve had as many as 200 cases [countywide] in a year, I think that was back in 2011 or ’10,” Custer said.
Custer said 56 cases were reported between January and March, the time of year when pertussis is most active.
The current whooping cough immunization sometimes keep symptoms at bay, but vaccinated people can become infected and spread the disease to family and friends.
“It still provides coverage, but it does not mean you will not get the whooping cough,” Custer said.
After a steep rise in whooping cough nationally over the last decade, federal health officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are now looking for a vaccine that prevents people from getting the disease and spreading it.
In March, the FDA held a grand rounds meeting to update scientists on its work.
In 2012, about 50,000 cases of pertussis were reported across the United States. The country has not experienced that level of disease since the 1940s and ’50s when the original pertussis vaccine was introduced.
“What’s alarming is the upward trend,” said principal investigator Tod Merkel.
A high percentage of children entering school for the first time have been vaccinated, Merkel said. Coverage of the booster immunization for adolescents is also good — about 80 percent.
“Vaccine refusers” are not the population driving the rise in cases, he said.
Federal health officials are looking for solutions and answers, Merkel said.