Texas is currently fighting a whooping cough epidemic, and officials fear that if current rates continue, the state will have the highest number of cases recorded in over 50 years.
The Texas Department of State Health Services told the Associated Press Tuesday that there have been 2,160 cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, in the state this year.
On Sept. 3, the Texas State Department of Health had reported 2,062 pertussis cases. Two deaths this year have been recorded so far, and they both occurred in children too young to be vaccinated.
"This is extremely concerning. Pertussis is highly infectious and can cause serious complications, especially in babies, so people should take it seriously," Dr. Lisa Cornelius, Texas infectious diseases medical officer, said to Reuters.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared 2012 as the worst year for whooping cough in nearly six decades. A total of 41,880 cases were initially recorded in 2012.
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Symptoms include uncontrollable, violent coughing which makes it hard for the patient to breath. The patient then needs to take deep breaths which emit a whooping sound, hence the diseases' nickname.
Early symptoms, which last about one to two weeks, include a runny nose, low-grade fever, a mild, occasional cough and a pause in breathing called apnea. Later, patients can exhibit the rapid coughs and high pitched "whoops," vomiting and exhaustion after coughing. People remain contagious up to two weeks, but they can take antibiotics to shorten the period of infection.
Whooping cough is more common in infants and young children, and can be fatal especially for children under 1 year of age. Those infected also can experience weight loss, loss of bladder control, passing out and rib fractures from severe coughing.
The Texas State Department of Health recommends vaccination as the number one preventative measure against the disease. The recommended vaccine in the U.S. for whooping cough is DTaP, which is a combination vaccine that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. The protection is delivered as a series of five shots, which are given at 2, 4 and 6 months of age, between 15 and 18 months, and then before a child enters school at 4 to 6 years old.
A Sept. 9 study in JAMA Pediatrics showed that children between the ages of 3 and 36 months who are not up to date on their pertussis vaccines are at higher risk of getting whooping cough compared to those who have gotten the appropriate number of shots.
A team of researchers looked at pediatric patients at eight managed care organizations between 2004 and 2008. Seventy-two patients were identified with pertussis, and they were compared with 288 similar children who didn't not contract the illness.
About 47 percent of the children who had whooping cough had not gotten the recommended four doses of the DTaP vaccine. Out of the children who weren't sick with pertussis, only 22 percent were able to skip the vaccine and avoid getting sick.
"Children who aren't immunized on time are at greatly increased risk for pertussis compared to kids who are vaccinated on time," lead researcher Jason Glanz, at the Institute for Health Research at Kaiser Permanente Colorado, in Denver, told HealthDay.
However, vaccination protection can fade over time. A Pediatrics study showed that the newer vaccines given after the 1990s weren't as effective as the ones that were previously given. Another New England Journal of Medicine study showed that the DTaP vaccine may not protect people as long as previously thought. Research showed protection was lessened after the patients got the last of the five doses.
Because the initial vaccine can become less effective, it is recommended that pre-teens get a booster dose of another pertussis vaccine known as Tdap around 11 or 12 years old. Adults who did not get Tdap when they are younger, pregnant women not previously vaccinated with Tdap and adults over 65 who are often near infants are also recommended to get the Tdap shot.
Earlier this year, were reports of the first U.S. case of vaccine-resistant whooping cough. This germ has previously been reported in Japan, France and Finland.
"It's quite intriguing. It's the first time we've seen this here," Dr. Tom Clark of the CDC said according to AP.
The Texas State Department of Health also recommends keeping infants and other people at higher risk of contracting the disease away from the ill.