Monday, November 5, 2018

Maine Voices: Declining vaccination rates play role in rise of pertussis cases

In each of the past five years, Maine has experienced hundreds of cases of pertussis (“whooping cough”), whose terrifying nature comes from its namesake symptom: a deep, gasping cough that sounds – and feels – as though the cougher is on their last breath. Adults experience a grueling illness that tortures them with coughing so intense it often leads to vomiting for weeks to months. For children, the disease can be fatal.

A recent Press Herald story detailed the rising number of pertussis cases in York County, and quoted health experts who attributed the high numbers to an increase in unvaccinated children. While declining vaccination rates have absolutely played a role in the state’s rising rate of pertussis, they do not explain it entirely. Maine is one of several states that has seen cases of pertussis in children who are fully vaccinated, on time and on schedule. How is it possible that a disease that was once well-controlled by a vaccine has started appearing in fully immunized children? We recently completed a study that may help answer this question.

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