Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pertussis Makes a Sinister Comeback

From history courses, many know the disease Pertussis by its common name, Whooping Cough. The disease brings to mind a time before vaccinations, before the positive developments of modern science. Even though Whooping Cough vaccine history goes as far back as 1906, the disease is still present today, and the number of those affected has grown. A recent Los Angeles Times article explains its reemergence.

Pertussis has returned to infect newborns in particular, as babies cannot get their first immunization until their sixth week. The exposure risks these newborns pose to their families is great, even though it is usually family members who infect newborns with the disease first.

Problems specific to Pertussis are legion. For one, the disease is not usually diagnosed until very late, since the signature "whoop" quality of the cough is not manifested initially. Very young children often do not display symptoms indicating a major threat, like fever. Usually Whooping Cough in newborns merely begins as a runny nose and mild cough. Later symptoms include intense, periodic coughing fits followed by the “whooping” sound, difficulty breathing, and sometimes vomiting. In the final stages, the disease can develop into pneumonia, earaches, seizures, and encephalopathy.

Pertussis has had an interesting vaccine development history. Belgian microbiologist Jules Bordet and bacteriologist Octave Gengou created the first version at the turn of the 20th century. From this point, Pertussis vaccines mushroomed, and the first widely-distributed, whole-cell immunization was developed by Danish physician Thorvald Madsen in 1925. In recent history, Pertussis vaccine development underwent scandal in the 70s and 80s with the DTP vaccine, which allegedly caused permanent brain damage and spurred federal legislation.

Now, Pertussis vaccinations, although not without their limitations, are widely available in the US and are part of the DTaP vaccination, which also immunizes tetanus and diphtheria. The Perstussis component is acellular and so causes 90% less harmful side effects than its DTP predecessor. The DTaP vaccination is administered to young babies but only provides immunity for a few years. In the past few years, the FDA has approved immunizations for adolescents and adults of the whole-cell variety that seek to combat the burgeoning spread of Whooping Cough.

The best way to protect yourself against Whooping Cough is awareness. Be vigilant if a young baby starts showing the signs, even if they seem like only cold symptoms. Keeping up to date on immunizations is absolutely vital, both in terms of Pertussis but for other potential comeback diseases as well.


This guest post is contributed by Kitty Holman, who writes on the topics of Nursing Schools . She welcomes your comments at her email Id kitty.holman20@gmail.com.

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