Whooping cough cases on the rise in Missouri, nation

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Whooping cough, a once common disease that vaccinations had all but wiped out in the United States, is back on the rise in Missouri and around the country, health officials said Monday.

In Missouri, 106 cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, have been reported in 2002 through September, said Sue Denny, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. That was up from 80 over the same period a year ago.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta showed that pertussis cases have been gradually rising nationwide.

Pertussis cases in the United States peaked at about 200,000 a year prior to development of vaccines in the 1940s. Because of the vaccines, the number of cases gradually fell to around 4,400 per year in the 1980s. In underdeveloped nations without vaccinations, pertussis continues to kill 300,000 annually, mostly children.

In the United States, vaccinations are given at approximately ages 2, 4 and 6 months. A fourth occurs at 12 to 16 months, and a fifth when the child is 4 years old. While the vaccine eventually wears off, it generally lasts long enough to ward off the disease until adulthood, when pertussis is less likely to cause complications, experts say.

Cases have been increasing since the '80s, reaching just under 8,000 in 2000. Denny said it wasn't clear why the numbers are on the rise.

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that initially mimics a cold. Symptoms include a runny nose and hacking cough, first at night and then during the day.

Coughing fits begin with a week or two, fits that can include up to 15 coughs in a row followed by a high-pitched "whoop" as the patient gasps for air.

The disease can be fatal in infants. Still, Denny noted that few deaths have been reported in Missouri -- none that she could recall in her six years with the health department. Official statistics were not immediately available.

Officials in Franklin County in eastern Missouri reported five cases of pertussis over the past two months. Denny said she had no details about the Franklin County cases. She said no one area of the state was particularly hard hit.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: