I guess it was inevitable. The Public Health Agency of Canada issued a travel advisory today. Advisories themselves aren’t surprising, they’re issued all the time for travellers to countries like China, Angola and Tajikistan. But today’s warning is for travellers to California:
An increased number of pertussis cases (also called whooping cough) has been reported this year in California in the United States.
As of August 24, 2010, the California Department of Public Health has reported 3,311 cases of pertussis. This number is seven times higher than what was reported in 2009. Cases include 8 deaths, 7 of whom were infants under two months of age who had not received any doses of the pertussis vaccine.
Other states in the Unites States have reported an increase in localized cases of pertussis while others are reporting similar rates to last year. No state other than California, however, is reporting state-wide disease.
Pertussis cases occur around the world, including Canada. Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that causes coughing spells which can last for four to six weeks. It is spread through droplets in the air from coughing or sneezing. This disease can affect people of any age however it is more serious among young infants.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) reminds travellers to make sure their pertussis vaccination is up-to-date.
The outbreak seems the consequence of adults whose immunity has lapsed. In this group, pertussis resembles a cold – but it’s easily passed on to children, where it can be much more serious. In most kids, vaccinations offer good protection. But no vaccine offers 100% protection, and there are always kids who aren’t vaccinated, or aren’t fully protected. And pertussis in young children can kill.
Why are we seeing a large increase in pertussis in California? The reasons aren’t clear yet. It’s easy to jump to blaming anti-vaccination sentiment. But the true cause has not yet been established.
There are four different vaccines in Canada that contain the pertussis vaccine, bundled in with other vaccines. For those of you unsure about the efficacy of the pertussis vaccine, the Public Health Agency of Canada’s data are instructive:
The vaccine has reduced the incidence by 90%, but hasn’t eliminated it completely. :
Pertussis (whooping cough) is a highly communicable infection of the respiratory tract caused by Bordetella pertussis. The disease can affect individuals of any age; however, severity is greatest among young infants. One to three deaths occur each year in Canada, particularly in infants too young to have begun their immunization and in partially immunized infants (e.g., one or two doses). The number of affected adolescents and adults has steadily increased, and the morbidity in these cases is not insignificant. The goal of pertussis control is to decrease the morbidity and mortality of pertussis across the entire lifespan. Protection of adolescents and adults is a worthy goal for the benefit of these individuals themselves, notwithstanding the added indirect protection that it may provide to infants.
Prevention of pertussis is simple. Ensure your vaccination schedule is up-to-date. By vaccinating, you can help prevent children from ending up like this:
How coincidental that this very weekend, the Hug Me, I’m Vaccinated campaign is kicking off at the Dragon*Con conference in Atlanta. An initiative of Skepchick.org and the Women Thinking Free Foundation, the Hug Me campaign is offering free vaccinations to anyone that wants one. But you Canadians don’t need to go to Atlanta to get a free vaccine. And it doesn’t matter if you’re not heading to California. If you’re an adult with regular contact with infants, you should ensure you’re protected. These vaccines are covered by your provincial medicare program, so it’s at no cost to you. Make an appointment with your family doctor, get your vaccinations up-to-date, and help protect those that can’t protect themselves.