Broward health officials have now recorded 34 cases of whooping cough this year, according to the latest data. For the whole of last year, there was only one case documented in the county.
The surge of the highly contagious respiratory disease, also known as pertussis, is playing out across the state. Florida Department of Health data through the end of September show a total of 447 cases, suggesting that we're on our way to breaking 2009's recent record of 497 cases.
So what's driving the epidemic?
A number of factors, according to Dr. Adam Cutler of Pediatric Associates in Boca Raton.
"We do have unimmunized individuals who are able to get pertussis, and they're able to spread it to their family, children, and other people who are not vaccinated or have lower immunity," Cutler says. "The recommendation is very clear: Everyone who is not vaccinated needs to receive a proper pertussis vaccine."
It's not just kids who need the vaccine, Cutler says. Adults are prone to the ailment, and many haven't been vaccinated against it since their school days.
"The best way to protect a newborn infant is to vaccinate the people who are around the baby, who are going to be the caregivers," he says. "If a baby acquires pertussis in the first year, they're usually acquiring it from the people around them... The adults, the aunts and uncles, who are either not vaccinated or have no immunity -- they're the ones bringing infections to infants in the first year."
It's not just unvaccinated people helping fuel the epidemic, though. Cutler notes that the acellular vaccine currently used isn't as effective as the whole-cell vaccine used in the past. The newer vaccine is associated with fewer side effects, such as fever, but it isn't 100 percent effective. That's why it's crucial to follow the CDC's schedule for the vaccine, he says.
Kids are supposed to be vaccinated for pertussis at age 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 months, and 5 years. Then there's a booster at age 11.
As for adults, one shot of a vaccine called Adacel should provide sufficient immunity for at least a decade.
Whooping cough can be fatal in certain cases, and it seemed like a disease that public health officials had under control, at least until recent years. In 2007, there were 211 cases across the state. We've already doubled that figure this year.
It's also best to ignore claims made by Rob Schneider, Jenny McCarthy, and other loud-mouthed, misinformed, fear-mongering haters of evidence-based science. The benefits of vaccination far, far, far, far outweigh any risks.
"This vaccine is not linked to autism. I vaccinate my children. I vaccinate all my relatives. I'm fully, 100 percent confident in the safety of this vaccine," Cutler says.