The Cough That's Tough to Kick
Whooping cough (pertussis)
In the early 1900s, about 200,000 children in the United States got whooping cough each year, and about 9,000 died as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After a vaccine became widely available in the 1940s, reported cases dropped to about 900 annually. However, last year, more than 41,000 cases were reported to the CDC—the most since 1955.
Why it’s still around: Throughout the 1990s, the U.S. switched from using a vaccine that contained the entire bacterium (which posed a higher risk of side effects) to a less potent "acellular" version. Experts now suspect the newer vaccine is wearing off faster.
What you can do: Talk to your doctor about a booster shot of Tdap (for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), especially if you haven't had one in 10 years, you're in contact with infants or you're pregnant. The "whoop" occurs when the infected person tries to suck in air to fill their lungs, but you can be sick without the sound, says Alison Patti, a spokeswoman for the CDC's bacterial diseases division. Watch for a cough that gets worse at night and won't go away (in China, pertussis is known as "the 100 days' cough"). If you think you have it, make an appointment to see your doctor, because antibiotics are most effective when taken early.
The Jet-Setting Rash
This virus is so contagious that it can be spread by a sneeze, a cough or even the breath of a close-talker. Before a widespread vaccination program began in the 1950s, an estimated 3 to 4 million Americans were infected each year, and 400 to 500 died from the disease. Measles was so common that most people contracted it by age 20, developing a fever, cough and runny nose, then a head-to-toe rash (measles can also lead to pneumonia and encephalitis). The CDC states that 220 confirmed cases of measles were reported in the U.S. in 2011, compared with a median of 60 cases the year before.
Why it’s still around: Thanks to MMR vaccinations (protecting against measles, mumps and rubella), the United States had all but eradicated measles. Unfortunately, the virus still kills nearly 200,000 people around the world, and it's managed to hitch a ride with travelers and infect vulnerable and unvaccinated people here in the U.S.
What you can do: Make sure you and the children in your life are vaccinated, because those who aren't can not only get sick but can also pass this disease along to babies, elderly people and other kids who haven't had the entire course of vaccines. You may have heard that the MMR vaccine can cause developmental disorders, but these claims are unfounded—large studies of thousands of children have found no connection between this vaccine and autism. Another recent study addressed concerns about the number of vaccines children receive early in life, and concluded that this was also unrelated to the risk of developing autism.
Next: The disease of kings that's spreading to the commoners