TEMPLE — In the past couple of weeks, Bell County has seen a slight increase in cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough.
Six cases were reported recently, said Lacey Sanders, disease surveillance coordinator for the Bell County Health District.
“We’re still under a statewide outbreak because we’re seeing a higher-than-normal level of pertussis, but nothing like the outbreak we had, as far as our county goes,” Sanders said.
Pertussis cases in Texas and the United States have been increasing for several reasons, including waning immunity in adults and adolescents; heightened awareness of the disease among clinicians, school nurses, parents and the general public; better laboratory testing methodologies; and enhanced disease surveillance capabilities.
In 2013, Texas reported 3,985 cases, the highest annual case count since 1959, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Of the 3,985 cases, 11 percent required hospitalization; most of them were children younger than 1. Five deaths from pertussis were reported in 2013, all infants.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends pregnant women receive the whooping cough vaccine for adolescents and adults during the third trimester of every pregnancy. This replaces the original recommendation that pregnant women get the vaccine only if they had not previously received it.
Early, short-term protection is critical. Babies can’t be vaccinated for whooping cough vaccine until they are 2 months old.
After receiving a whooping cough vaccine, the mother’s body will create protective antibodies and pass some of them to the baby before birth. These antibodies provide the infant some short-term protection against whooping cough in early life. The antibodies also can protect the baby from some of the more serious complications of whooping cough.
The disease is most dangerous for babies and young children. From 2000 through 2012, there were 255 deaths from whooping cough reported in the United States. Almost all of the deaths, 221 of the 255, were infants younger than 3 months, according to the CDC.
About half of babies younger than 1 who get the disease need care in the hospital. About 1 of 4 hospitalized babies with whooping cough will get pneumonia. Whooping cough also can cause seizures and brain damage, according to the CDC.
Immunity to pertussis wanes over time. The adult version of the shot is about 98 percent effective the first year, dropping to about 70 percent after five years, said Dr. Thomas A. Clark, director of the CDC’s Meningitis and Vaccine Preventable Diseases Branch.