Oct 01/10 - Pt 2: Whooping Cough

All over North America, the overwhelming majority of children get vaccinated for whooping cough. But that hasn't stopped outbreaks in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and California. We're asking why a disease we thought we could prevent is coming back.


Whooping Cough - Dr. Saqib Shahab

We started this segment with the horrible sound of whooping cough. It's especially horrible if it's your child or baby who is desperately trying to catch their breath. Whooping cough is known clinically as pertussis. It causes a dry, irritating cough that can lead to vomiting and shortness of breath. And it persists for weeks at a time.

Most people think of whooping cough as a thing of the past like the mumps or other diseases we now vaccinate against. But experts in the field say whooping cough is more prevalent than we realize and that periodic outbreaks still happen. Worldwide, there are between 30 and 50-million cases of whooping cough every year. And about 300,000 people die from it.

This morning, scientists from across North America and Europe will gather at an international conference in Baltimore to talk about the scope of the problem. The conference comes as Saskatchewan is facing one of those whooping cough outbreaks. Health officials there say that since January, they have seen five times the normal number of cases.

Doctor Saqib Shahab is Saskatchewan's Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer. He was in Regina.

Whooping Cough - Dr. Natasha Crowcroft

Saskatchewan isn't the only place dealing with a spike in whooping cough cases. Health officials in Manitoba say they've seen an upswing, with 34 cases reported this year, including eight young children who had to be hospitalized.

And south of the border, California has recorded more than 4,200 cases of pertussis this year, the highest number in 55 years. Nine infants there have died from the disease. We heard from Stacey Martin, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, describing California's epidemic.

All of this has left some experts asking if whooping cough is re-emerging and if so, why. Doctor Natasha Crowcroft is the Director of Surveillance and Epidemiology with the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion. She was in Baltimore this morning, where she happens to be attending an international conference on whooping cough.

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