Whooping cough makes a comeback

The latest comeback in the health arena is whooping cough and experts are sufficiently concerned for the US government to approve the first whooping cough booster shot meant just for adolescents. The shot will be added to a booster shot against two other diseases, tetanus and diphtheria, that children already get sometime between ages 10 and 18.

Whooping cough, also called pertussis, is a bacterial infection that causes a cough so violent in can break a rib. Initial coldlike symptoms lead to fits of 16 to 20 coughs in a row that leave patients gasping for air with the characteristic "whoop" that gives the disease its name.

With the wide-scale vaccination of all babies and young children in most countries the disease had all but disappeared but it now appears to be on the rise again, mainly in teenagers and adults which shows that the vaccine's protection wears off, often by adolescence.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received 18,957 reports of whooping cough last year, up from 11,647 in 2003 and just 1,707 in 1980 and about a third are among adolescents and experts say that figure is underestimated because whooping cough frequently goes undiagnosed in teens and adults.

Although the real threat is not to the older patients, whooping cough can kill newborns before they're old enough to get their first doses of pertussis vaccine, so the more older children and adults who get this disease, the higher the risk to vulnerable babies.

There has been a rise of 72 percent in cases of pertussis among babies younger than 4 months since 1990, at that age the vaccine protection begins to kick in.

The vaccine is produced by GlaxoSmithKline, and the shot, Boostrix, uses the same pertussis protection as is in the company's infant vaccine, but at a lower booster dose, says the Food and Drug Administration. They say that studies show adolescents given the booster shot had immune system responses that indicate adequate protection, but as yet it is unclear how long the renewed immunity will last.

The most common side effects were pain, redness and swelling at the injection site; headaches, fever and fatigue for a short period after the shot also were reported.

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