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.
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.
The Rich-People Affliction That's Now Affecting Commoners
Gout (gouty arthritis) This painful form of arthritis was once seen as a disease of the aristocracy because the condition that causes it, a build-up of uric acid in the blood, is associated with consuming large amounts of port wine, meat and other indulgences. Over time, the "disease of kings" has spread to suburban royalty. Rates have doubled in the past 20 years; it now affects about 4 percent of American adults, says N. Lawrence Edwards, MD, professor of medicine, rheumatology and clinical immunology at the University of Florida, and CEO of the Gout & Uric Acid Education Society.
Why it’s still around: While genetics play a big role, the risk of developing gout increases in those who are overweight or diabetic. Flare-ups can be triggered by consuming alcohol, red meat, shellfish, organ meats and high-fructose corn syrup—basically, the modern American diet. Other reasons we’re seeing more cases of gout: we’re living longer. Older people, who are more likely to have age-related medical conditions like high blood pressure, are also more likely to experience flare-ups.
What you can do: Try to maintain healthy weight and keep your blood pressure in check, says Edwards, as hypertension, kidney disease, blood disease and diabetes all tend to be associated with gout. Doctors can also prescribe drugs to lower your uric acid level.
The Swelling Virus That Keeps Popping Up
The mumps (epidemic parotitis) The mumps used to be a common illness that was the leading cause of deafness among children. Good immunization coverage means that this virus is now rare: an estimated 212,000 cases occurred in 1964; only 454 cases were reported in 2008, says the CDC. However, outbreaks continue to occur: 6,000 reported the illness in 2006, and 3,000 had in 2009. Just this month, more than a dozen Loyola University Maryland students came down with the fevers and swollen salivary glands associated with the mumps, putting state officials on high alert.
Why it’s still around: Most Americans receive a one-two punch of the MMR vaccine as children, and studies have shown that this double dose is about 88 percent effective. However, the rate of unvaccinated children in the United States has been slowly creeping up, and other countries don't follow the same vaccination guidelines. Sporadic outbreaks can occur in places where people spend a lot of time in close contact—like colleges.
What you can do: There's no cure for the mumps. It's usually a mild disease in children, but adults may experience complications like meningitis, encephalitis as well as swelling and inflammation in the ovaries or testes and breasts. Check your immunization records—you can also ask your doctor to perform blood tests that can assess your current immunity.
A Bug That Needs to be Taken More Seriously
The flu (influenza) The flu is an expected winter hazard, but this season was long, intense and especially severe for seniors—the worst for them that it's been in about a decade, says a CDC spokesperson.
Why it’s hitting so hard: This was the earliest start to the flu season since 2003–2004 (it hit the first week of December instead of the usual January or February), and according to a CDC representative, the dominant strain, influenza A (H3N2), is typically associated with a higher rate of hospitalizations and deaths, especially in older people.
What you can do: The CDC recommends that everyone get vaccinated every year. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to kick in, so it's best to get it early in the fall, before the season takes off. While effectiveness varies, the vaccine can lower your risk of getting sick and having to go to the doctor by about 60 percent, and if you do get the bug, it can help you avoid a related illness that could land you in the hospital. (And although you've heard it a million times before, wash your hands! It's one of the best ways to stay healthy.)