Spike in whooping cough cases

    In the Philadelphia suburbs, cases of whooping cough have increased four-fold this summer.

    Cases of whooping cough in the suburban counties of Pennsylvania have spiked in the past few months. WHYY’s health and science reporter Kerry Grens has more on why kids are getting sick.

    Whooping cough is caused by the bacteria Bordatella pertussis.

    Herzog: The coughing spells are really pretty horrific. It’s a difficult thing to watch and listen to.

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    Keith Herzog at Saint Christopher’s hospital has had several patients die of the infection in the past two decades.

    Herzog: It seems to come in cycles. Every three to five years there seems to be a peak and I believe we’re seeing that in California and potentially in this area.

    Susan Coffin, an infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says there is a vaccine for whooping cough, but its protection can wear off, which may be behind the recent spike.

    Any time there’s a cluster or an increase in the number cases above what’s been an established baseline it’s a cause for concern because we know that in any community there are people who remain vulnerable to pertussis.

    People with waning immunity unknowingly carry the bacteria and pass it on to babies who have not yet had their full series of vaccines — leading to periodic increases in cases. Stephen Ostroff is Pennsylvania’s epidemiologist.

    Ostroff: One of the challenges is that for pertussis, especially in the child immunization series, you need to get four doses starting at age two months and then there’s supposed to be a booster dose between four and six years of age. And so the series is a bit complicated.

    Those complications can lead to lapses in shots and vulnerability to the disease. Ostroff asks that older children and adults get booster shots to protect unvaccinated babies from the bacterial infection.

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