A watchful eye on an old danger

. January 9, 2013.

Parents have new reason to fear an old childhood menace, as whooping cough has made a disturbing resurgence in recent years. The illness, medically known as pertussis, is far from the scourge it once was, at least in the developed world. Vaccines and antibiotics developed in the twentieth century made a formerly deadly threat both treatable and largely preventable. Michigan has reported an increase in whooping cough cases as compared to a year ago.

Reasons for the troubling trend are unclear. Some children never receive the proper vaccinations, or don’t get the periodic boosters required to keep the vaccines at full effectiveness.

 Pertussis is a bacterial infection that attacks the respiratory system, causing the distinctive cough that gives the sickness its common name. And while the illness is readily treatable, young children, especially those who haven’t been fully vaccinated, are at more risk for complications. 

“We have seen quite a bit of pertussis, starting last spring,” says Ann Arbor pediatrician Dr. Paul Turke. “In the last week, we’ve diagnosed two or three new cases.” Turke urges parents to keep their child’s immunizations up to date, and to be aware. Communications with teachers and other parents can be crucial in controlling outbreaks. 

“Parents should know that if their child has been exposed, they should see their pediatrician,” Turke says. “There are ways to prevent the full-blown illness from developing with antibiotics.” But for parents, as always, the most crucial lesson is not to panic and to know the facts.