Actually, it never really left.

The United States is in the midst of the worst epidemic of pertussis, or whooping cough, in more than 50 years, and Allegheny County is mirroring the national trend.

Nationwide, the outbreak is startling: 32,000 cases reported as of Oct. 24, along with 16 deaths, most of them infants. The all-time recorded peak was in 1959, with 40,000 cases.

In Allegheny County there are four times the number of cases in 2012 so far than in all of 2011!

Whooping cough (pertussis) is caused by Bordetella pertussis, a bacterium that is sensitive to only a few antibiotics.  It causes very severe coughing spasms that lead to scary episodes of laryngospasm in children and adults.  During a typical spasm, a victim is unable to take in a breath of air until they have expelled every bit of air in their lungs by coughing violently.  That breath of inspired air creates a “whooping” sound, otherwise known as inspiratory stridor, and brings relief to the person, who truly feels he or she is going to die.  This can go on for up to three months, which is why pertussis is also known as “One Hundred Day Cough.”  But the coughing, panic, and sore (sometimes broken) ribs will resolve in heathy children and adults.

The same cannot be said for those with chronic medical problems and, especially,  for  infants.  These coughing episodes can be so intense and violent that some infants will not be able to get that “whooping” inspiratory breath into their lungs and, thus, oxygen to their brains.

Try this on for size:

Or this:

Or this:

Had enough?  Now watch this:

Read Sally Kalson’s article in Monday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette here:

Ms. Kalson does make one factual error regarding the use of antibiotics:  they only serve to reduce and eliminate the contagious period of pertussis.  Antibiotics will not improve the symptoms or shorten the course of whooping cough.

It’s a recurring theme on The PediaBlog:  immunization protects the person who gets the shot, but also the people around that person.  Leaving your child unvaccinated puts not only your child at risk of serious illness, but also your child’s parents, grandparents, friends, classmates, teachers, pediatricians… everyone they come in contact with.

For everyone’s sake, please immunize your children.