Monday, April 16, 2012 at 5 a.m.
The Broward County Health Department on Friday afternoon announced that it has confirmed four cases of pertussis, three among school-aged children and one case in an adult. More commonly known as whooping cough, pertussis is a "highly contagious respiratory disease" that can cause "permanent disability in infants and even death."
While all of that sounds very grim, there's a safe and effective vaccine available. Despite this proven precaution, cases of whooping cough in Florida have soared in recent years, and it looks like we're poised to top last year's 312 cases.
Data from the Florida Department of Epidemiology show that there have been 103 cases of the disease reported through April 7, and that doesn't include the four new Broward cases.
At the same point in 2011, there were only 84 cases reported.
And even more worrisome is that the average number of cases for the past five years reported through April 7 is 73.4. So in case arithmetic isn't your strong suit, we're already 30 cases ahead of the five-year trend.
It gets worse, though. In 2000, there were only 48 cases of whooping cough
in all of Florida. Less than a decade later, in 2009, there were 497 cases.
So why the uptick in the past decade? There's no one answer.
Part of the problem is the antivaccine folks. As documented by our sister paper the Seattle Weekly
, some so-called vaccine "refusers" have explored the terrible idea of "pertussis parties" as a way of helping their kids develop natural immunity against the infection. So vaccines aren't safe, yet it's totally fine to throw your kid in a room with a bunch of other little sick brats and hope they all sneeze on one another -- au naturale.
Unvaccinated folks certainly diminish herd immunity and increase the risk. However, a study released earlier this month
found that the effectiveness of the vaccine fluctuates among age groups. Like a lot of vaccines, the one for pertussis needs boosters, and the new study suggests that changes might be needed to the schedule of when kids get their boosters.
In announcing the four cases, Broward health officials made sure to warn that "with pertussis circulating in the community, there is a chance that a fully vaccinated person, of any age, can become infected."
The department also noted that the rise in cases down here is consistent with a rise in cases across the country, including in North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Montana, and Washington.
For those worried, it's probably best to check with your doctor to make sure you and your kids are up to date on boosters.
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