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Whooping Cough Cases On the Rise

Pascal Dolémieux/flickr

The Austin-Travis County health department has released its Critical Health Indicator Report, which examines the community’s major health problems.

The report shows a sharp rise in the cases of whooping cough disease — also known as pertussis — from 2006 to 2010. There were 908 reported whooping cough cases in 2010 in the Austin-area. 

While these statistics might make it look like Austin is on the edge of epidemic, Dr. Philip Huang with the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department says pertussis numbers are likely part of the disease’s natural cycle. “It typically goes in waves, every four to five years. We had a big outbreak in 2005, and then again in 2009-2010, and so we are actually on the downswing of that 2010 outbreak,”Dr. Huang explains.

While rates of whooping cough indicate that the disease is reaching its national peak, the state of Texas might be ahead of the curve, says the Austin-Travis County Health Department.

According to reports by the Centers for Disease Control, rates of whooping cough are at a national high. So while Texas rates might be on a downward curve from a previous high, they might not go back down to their previous rates. 

Dr. Huang states changes to the "DTaP" vaccination — Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis — as a possible reason for why pertussis rates have gone up. 

“There were concerns about the pertussis component causing neurological problems, and so in 1997 they changed to a different version,” Huang says. “But that is still speculative.  They are still trying to find out exactly what is going on.”

The CDC currently recommends that children should be vaccinated with 5 doses of DTaP: at ages four to six months, 15 to 18 months, then two, four, and six years.  From age 11 to age 65, the CDC recommends a single dose of DTaP.   

Austin school districts currently require the vaccination, and the vaccination is strongly encouraged for adults that spend a lot of time around children, especially those less than 12 months of age.    

There were 14 cases of whooping cough in the Austin-area in June.

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