William Schaffner, MD, is professor of preventive medicine and medicine (infectious diseases) at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. Additionally, he serves as a hospital epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Hospital and is immediate past-president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Pertussis is back with a vengeance

Oh, for the good old days! I’m not thinking about the 1950s and greasers or the 1960s and bell bottom pants. I’m thinking about the 1980s — and no, it’s not the fashion that I’m nostalgic for. I’m thinking about a time when it looked like pertussis was headed for the history books. But, by 2004 we saw a huge peak in the US pertussis incidence, and that peak apparently was a warning of dire events to come.

Pertussis has recurred with a vengeance. Nowhere is the outbreak worse than in California, where 8,627 cases were reported in 2010. That’s the most cases since 1947, before the days of the pertussis vaccine.

Pertussis is rearing its ugly, whooping head in all age groups. Infants, as you would expect, have been particularly vulnerable. Nine of the 10 infants who died in California weren’t yet two-months — too young to receive any pertussis vaccine.

Older children, especially preteens, are getting pertussis; adults have not been spared either. This story from the National Foundation for Infectious Disease’s adultvaccination.org site reminds me why it’s important to talk to everyone — my physician colleagues included — about the importance of vaccination. Please take a minute to read it.

I’ve said it before in this blog, and I’ll say it again. Vaccination is not always about you. It’s also about your responsibility to your family and to society. We all are in this together, and each of us must contribute to the health of our community.