In the last week, we have seen a couple of little ones show up with confirmed cases of whooping cough.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is an infection of the respiratory tract caused by the bordetella pertussis bacteria. It starts out looking like the common cold–runny nose, fever, mild cough. This is then followed by severe coughing fits, sometimes with the characteristic “whoop” sound at the end of the fit. These coughing fits can go on for 10 weeks, giving it the nickname “the 100-day cough”.
You can hear the sounds of pertussis here.
But…I thought we had vaccines for pertussis?
Whooping cough is actually the second most common infectious childhood disease in Canada, after influenza. It’s endemic, meaning it’s always around, but it usually doesn’t show itself much–just in minor periodic outbreaks.
This isn’t unusual–the vaccine isn’t perfect. It’s estimated to have about an 80-85% effectiveness after three doses, and that effectiveness wears off over time. As a result, whooping cough re-emerges occasionally.
For an in depth look at the research on this, Dr. Suzanne Humphries, MD does a good job of outlining the issues. It is a long article but worth the read if you are a worried parent.
Prevention of Pertussis
Vaccination is currently the prevention method of choice. It is part of the infant vaccination schedule, which is important. There is a 0.5% mortality rate in infants under 1 year of age who contract pertussis. Before regular pertussis vaccination, moms who contracted the infection in childhood would be immune to it when they had their babies (a natural infection confers immunity for over 30 years). When they breastfed their babies they little ones would get the benefit of that immunity from their mothers.
Many mothers now have been part of public vaccination programs and their immunity is likely to have worn off, resulting in increased risk. A blood test can show if mom is immuno-competent.
Conventional treatment is generally antibiotics, but they generally have very little positive effect. In fact, more and more evidence is coming forward about the negative effect of using antibiotics, especially when they are not needed. We’ve written about this before.
As naturopaths, we like to support the immune system in its efforts to deal with the infection, and Vitamin C is the core treatment tool.
The pertussis bacteria makes a “toxin” that is at least partly responsible for the lung symptoms. Vitamin C does a pretty good job of neutralizing that toxin. Again, Dr. Humphries does a great job discussing this issue. In our little ones, we use oral dosing, but in our teens and adults with the “100 day cough” weekly to bi-weekly treatments can decrease the duration of the illness.
Remember: If you are suspecting whooping cough in your child it is very important to seek assistance from a regulated health professional.