Whooping Cough is making headlines again – with more than 18,000 cases in the U.S. and 600 cases so far this year in AZ. You might wonder why we continue to have lots of whooping cough cases in the US and AZ when the other vaccine preventable diseases are real rare (e.g. measles, mumps etc.).
Creating a vaccine for whooping cough is different than a vaccine for measles. Whooping cough is a bacteria and measles is a virus – and that’s a big difference when it comes to making a vaccine that lasts. That’s partly because virus generally have a pretty specific and predictable protein coat on their surface that makes it easier to create a vaccine that generates antibodies specific to the virus coat- like a lock and key. Bacteria, on the other hand, are much larger and pose a bigger challenge when making a vaccine because the cell wall is way more complicated than a simple virus protein coat. As a result- vaccines against viruses are generally more protective and last longer. Likewise, when you get sick from whooping cough you’ll have temporary natural immunity- but you can still get it again (unlike some viruses such as measles).
Anyway- it’s important to keep up the battle against whooping cough because of the danger it poses to babies. We had one baby die earlier this year in Arizona. Babies are just too young to fight the disease – they don’t have the immunity and they don’t have the ability to cough like children and adults do. So it’s important for us to make sure that everyone around them has been vaccinated. I talked about the importance of “cocooning” and our cocooning intervention strategies last summer in my Whooping it Up blog post.