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CDC Says US On Track For Record High Rates Of Whooping Cough

Ruby de Luna

The number of whooping cough cases in Washington state has passed 3,000. Washington's infection rate was rising so rapidly that health officials called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for help. That was in May. Yesterday, the CDC issued a report on its findings. As KUOW's Ruby de Luna reports, scientists noticed an unusual pattern.


According to the CDC, older kids have the highest rate of infection. The surge starts at age 10. It dips, and then the rate goes up again among 13– to 14–year–olds. One possible explanation: Protection from newer boosters wears off sooner than expected.

In 1997, the US switched to a type of vaccine that caused fewer side effects such as fever or swelling. Kids who are currently in their early teenage years were the first wave of children to be entirely immunized with the new vaccine.

Dr. Anne Schuchat is the center's director for immunization and respiratory diseases. She spoke to reporters this week on a conference call. She says the CDC will continue to investigate Washington's epidemic. They'll focus on the vaccine's effectiveness.

Schuchat: "Is it giving us short–term protection? Is it lasting, is it dropping off or waning? The pattern of higher rates of 11–, 13–, 14–year–olds is a bit different from what we've seen in the past."

Across the country the number of pertussis, or whooping cough, cases is also rising. So far nearly 18,000 cases have been reported to the CDC this year. Dr. Schuchat says that's more than twice as many cases from the same time last year.

Schuchat: "In fact, it's more than we've had in each of the past five years. We may be on track for record high pertussis rates this year."

Schuchat says the pertussis vaccine may not be perfect, but without it, the infection rate would be even higher.

Health officials urge people to get booster shots. They say those who are vaccinated and get whooping cough often have milder symptoms and shorter illnesses. And it helps babies from getting sick. Infants are too young for vaccines; they depend on adults for protection from whooping cough.

The CDC says only 8 percent of adults got their booster.

I'm Ruby de Luna, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW

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