ATLANTA — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday held a press briefing regarding the growing number of whooping cough cases in Washington state, which, according to the CDC, is reflective of how pertussis cases are trending nationally.
"Above all, I want to urge vaccination for pregnant women and anyone who will have contact with babies. We're seeing a substantial increase in pertussis cases in the United States and in individual states like Washington," said Anne Schuchat, director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at CDC. "As of today, nationwide, nearly 18,000 cases have been reported to CDC. That's more than twice as many as we had at the same time last year," Schuchat said. "In fact, it's more than we had in each of the past five years. … We may need to go back to 1959 to find a year with as many cases reported by this time so far."
Washington declared a pertussis epidemic on April 3, when 640 cases were reported. Today, there are more than 3,000. "Most counties in our state have reported cases and for every case we know about, we expect there are many people out there who have pertussis and don't know about it," said Mary Selecky of the Washington state health department.
To date, nine babies have died due to the whooping cough outbreak, Schuchat said. Whooping cough is most dangerous with infants. "In this current wave nationally, we're seeing the highest rates of pertussis in infants younger than one year of age. About half of these cases are babies under three months of age," Schuchat said. "That's because those very young babies are too young to be protected by vaccines that they start getting at two months of age. Their protection instead depends on the immunity of the people around them, especially pregnant women, their mothers."
CDC also is tracking higher pertussis rates in children between the ages of 13 and 14. The agency surmised that protection provided through early-childhood vaccines may be waning and recommend children get a booster of the pertussis vaccine at 11-to-12 years of age.
"[But] given how dangerous pertussis is for babies, preventing infant deaths for the disease is our primary national goal," Schuchat said. "CDC continues to recommend that all children and adults get fully vaccinated to prevent infection and to protect infants. Getting Tdap is especially important for women and those that will be around infants, grandparents, brothers and sisters, childcare workers and health care providers." However, only 8% of adults had any history of receiving a Tdap booster in 2010. "I know we can do better than this. We need to do better than this."
According to Schuchat, the booster shot Tdap as been administered to about 69% of children between the ages of 13 and 17. Approximately 84% of toddlers between 19 months and 35 months have gotten four doses of the Tdap series; 95% have gottent three doses.