Now's the time to consider protecting yourself and your kids with a vaccine from the next whooping cough epidemic….Or is it?
Pertussis (a.k.a. whooping cough) is nasty cough from bacterial infection of the respiratory tract that spreads by coughing and sneezing. It often starts out like the common cold but can become a life-threatening infection, particularly for infants under the age of one.
The vaccination for pertussis (included in the DTaP vaccine with tetanus and diptheria and the booster known as TDaP) has gotten a good deal of press in light of the recent ‘epidemics'.
Last year's whooping cough outbreak (2012) was reported as the worst since 1955 – blamed by much of the media on the growing number of children who haven't received vaccinations, especially in California.
As a Californian mom and holistic health practitioner that works with kids, these allegations concerned me – so I decided to do some research of my own.
First off, I wanted to know…
Is pertussis really on the rise?
This may seem pointless to question – after all, numbers can't lie, right?
But after spending hours sifting through numbers and charts, there are some interesting things I learned.
First of all, there are two different numbers that are thrown around at the convenience of the story tellers: mortality rates and incidence rates.
Due to increased hygiene, medical care, and public sanitation, it makes sense that infectious disease has been in general decline since the turn of the last century, but I was fascinated to see that most of the drop occurred far before widespread use of the vaccinations.
You can see in the graph below that deaths from pertussis have been on the decline for over 100 years (and similar reports are available for most infectious diseases with the exception of AIDS). (source)
This next graph, from the CDC website demonstrates the incidence of pertussis since 1922 through 2010. In the mini-graph, you can see the spike in whooping cough in 2005 and 2011 and the general rise over the course of the last decade. Gulp…
According to the CDC, before the introduction of the pertussis vaccine there were an average of 175,000 cases of whooping cough each year. This dropped off to less than 3,000 cases per year in the 1980s. Then, in the U.S. alone, a total of 27,550 cases of pertussis were reported in 2010. The whooping cough outbreak in 2012 (not included here) reported 41,880 cases.
Why is this pertussis resurgence happening?
Dr. Anne Schuchat, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases explains that:
“Better diagnosis and reporting of whooping cough may be contributing to the increased numbers, along with the fact that the disease tends to peak and wane in cycles. It does not appear that anti-vaccination sentiment among parents has contributed…”
Interestingly, despite the high number of reported cases of pertussis last year, the mortality rate has gone down. In 1955 there were total 331 deaths. In 2012, there were only eighteen reported deaths, including 15 infants younger than 1.
So is pertussis on the rise? Maybe, maybe not.
Newer vaccine is less effective and wears off faster
In the 1990s, a switch was made from the DTwP (diphtheria-tetanus-whole cell pertussis) vaccine to the DTaP (diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis) vaccine to reduce side effects including pain and swelling at the injection site and less common “adverse brain effects”.
In a large-scale study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, kids who received the DTaP vaccine had higher rates of whooping cough than those who got the DTwP vaccine. (source)
A very recent DTaP vaccine study from the Oxford Journal Clinical Infectious Diseases demonstrates that vaccine efficacy is shockingly low, and varies greatly with age: 41% for toddlers and preschoolers and 24% for elementary age kids. These numbers make the pertussis vaccine one of the least effective vaccines on the market. (source)
Eighty-one percent of 2010 California pertussis cases under the age of 18 were fully vaccinated children; and in a pertussis outbreak in Texas, the CDC statistics show that 81.5 percent of cases were fully vaccinated.
It seems as though this new vaccine may have traded in potential side effects for less efficacy and less longevity.
To make matters worse, there is evidence that there's a new “super strain” of the pertussis bacteria. This resilient bacteria is thought to be partially responsible for the resurgence of whooping cough, and it is particularly resistant to the DTaP vaccine. (source)
The CDC's solution to these problems is to give more doses and more boosters for their inadequate vaccine. Good plan?
Here's another point to consider…
Some outbreaks of “whooping cough” may be due to pesticides NOT bacteria
Before I get into this, here's my disclaimer: I scoured the internet for more studies and data to prove this, and there's just one – very interesting- report about the correlation between pesticide spray zones and whooping cough outbreaks.
That said, ALL of the deaths from the 2012 whooping cough epidemic were Hispanic infants living in areas where there are many Latino farm workers exposed to pesticides.
Also, ALL of the counties in California that have had pertussis outbreaks also have pesticide spray programs.
The pertussis outbreaks in California typically occur between June and August – which is also just so happens to be the season for pesticide spray programs and peak outdoor air pollution.
The diagnosis for pertussis is usually based on symptoms, not germ diagnostics – Is itnpossible that these infants were not infected with the pertussis bacteria, but developed a respiratory condition from pesticide exposure that was misdiagnosed?
Even if pesticide spraying is not directly responsible for these cases of whooping cough, it stands to reason that those who allegedly contracted this disease may have had suppressed immune function from being exposed to pesticide spray.
Certainly we need more information to definitively draw a clear conclusion.
Was the whooping cough epidemic due to parents choosing not to vaccinate?
It doesn't seem likely.
Was it due to a poor vaccine, a super strain of bacteria, and environmental factors?
The CDC says yes.
Do you vaccinate for whooping cough?
Why or why not?
Learn about natural treatment for whooping cough symptoms here.
This post and others on vaccinations are not meant to be a substitute for your own thoughts and research. Vaccinations are (thankfully still) a very personal choice, and I urge all parents to consider each vaccine and the pros and cons for your individual child.