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Whooping Cough: A Bad Year Gets Worse

Whooping Cough: A Bad Year Gets Worse

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In July, I wrote about a "jaw-dropping" press release about California's astonishing rise in whooping cough cases.

Things have only gotten worse since then. Today, federal health officials said more than 21,000 Americans suffered from whooping cough in 2010, with many of the cases occurring in children and teens rather than infants, the AP's Mike Stobbe reports.  Health officials "are puzzled by the sharp rise in cases," he writes:

The vaccine against whooping cough is highly effective in children, and vaccination rates for kids are good.

The disease is very contagious and in rare cases can be fatal, especially for babies too young to be vaccinated. Whooping cough starts like a cold but leads to severe coughing that can last for weeks.

California appeared to be the hardest-hit state last year, with state health officials reporting more than 8,300 cases, including the deaths of 10 babies.

Here, from my earlier post, are some reporting resources and questions you might ask in covering whooping cough in your community. They're perhaps even more relevant now.

1. False alarm? Are these really pertussis cases? Between 2004 and 2006, outbreaks of pertussis in three states turned out to be false alarms, prompting a CDC investigation. Stobbe notes that the CDC's latest stats are "preliminary."

2. Immunization rates: Are overall childhood vaccination rates rising or falling in your state or community? Overall, vaccination rates remain fairly high, but there are substantial variations in states and counties.

3. Vaccine exemptions: Are school vaccine exemptions on the rise, and how lenient is your state in granting them? A 2006 study published in JAMA found that states with lenient exemption policies reported about 50 percent more whooping cough cases than states with stricter policies.

4. Health disparities: Are some ethnic or racial groups more at risk for pertussis than others? Why? Is it because of different vaccination rates or lack of access to health care? Or is there some biological explanation?


CDC's Pertussis Page

ReportingonHealth Member Blog: Pertussis: The Forgotten and Deadly Disease

CDC: Nation's Childhood Immunization Rates Remain High

CDC: DTaP Vaccine: What You Need To Know

Journal Sentinel Online: Skipped shots tied to whooping cough

MMWR: Outbreaks of Respiratory Illness Mistakenly Attributed to Pertussis - New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Tennessee, 2004-2006

California Department of Public Health: California Kindergarten Immunization Rates by Race

Related Posts:

Whooping Cough (Pertussis) Epidemic in California: Tips for Covering the Story

Pertussis: The Forgotten and Deadly Disease

Photo credit: Bryan Allison via Flickr


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The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 National Fellowship will provide $2,000 to $10,000 reporting grants, five months of mentoring from a veteran journalist, and a week of intensive training at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles from July 16-20. Click here for more information and the application form, due May 5.

The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 Symposium on Domestic Violence provides reporters with a roadmap for covering this public health epidemic with nuance and sensitivity. The next session will be offered virtually on Friday, March 31. Journalists attending the symposium will be eligible to apply for a reporting grant of $2,000 to $10,000 from our Domestic Violence Impact Reporting Fund. Find more info here!


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