WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — It may have an old fashioned name, but whooping cough is making a modern-day comeback in Connecticut, with the disease on pace to reach a 10-year high this year.
Connecticut has reported 121 cases of this bacterial infection, which is also called pertussis, in 2012, said epidemiologist Kathy Kudish of the state Department of Public Health.
In 2011, the state had about half that, or 68, the whole year.
Although often considered a disease of infancy, data shows it is older children, especially ages 11 to 19 years old, who account for the highest percentage of Connecticut cases, Kudish said.
The 7- to 10-year-old group is following close behind, she said.
The Centers for Disease Control attributes the national rise to the waning immunity of older children who got a safer, but weaker version of the pertussis vaccine, DTaP, as young children. The small but growing number of parents who are refusing any vaccines because they worry about the long-lasting health impacts may also play a role, Kudish said.
This has prompted officials like Kudish, who oversees the unit that focuses on vaccine preventable diseases, to recommend that adolescents and adults get a vaccine booster called Tdap.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends the booster for people 11 years old and up, especially for pregnant women, older adults and adults in close contact with infants.
The disease poses the biggest threat to newborns and infants, whose immune systems can't fight it off and who are still too young to start, much less finish, the pertussis vaccine series.
In 2008, the state health department created what it calls its cocoon program, trying to protect those most vulnerable to whooping cough by immunizing those closest to them.
In those four years, the state has spent more than $1.5 million of its federal vaccine grant to purchase 54,410 doses of Tdap for free distribution to a newborn baby's closest contacts.
In a 2011 survey, Kudish found that all but two of the state's 28 birthing hospitals either offered post-partum women the free state Tdap vaccines or privately purchased Tdap vaccines. The survey found 62 percent of new mothers took the booster.
But Kudish said there was no way to determine how many of the baby's other caregivers, like a father or grandparent, got one. They would likely be referred to a clinic, or their own doctor.
That isn't always easy, Kudish said. Not every doctor's office stocks Tdap boosters. Starting next month, however, pharmacists will be able to give the boosters to legal adults.
The department didn't want to say which hospitals didn't offer the pertussis booster to post-partum mothers at that time, saying that they might be doing so now.
Last year, to offset waning immunity among older children, the state took an extra step, requiring children to get the Tdap booster before they could enter seventh grade.
At some birthing centers, like the one at Waterbury Hospital, the staff has voluntarily agreed they should all get Tdap booster shots, said department Chairman John Lewis.
The decision was made after Kudish visited the hospital two years ago to talk about the importance of urging anyone who will come into contact with a baby to get the Tdap, Lewis said.
"Our mission is to deliver healthy babies, and nurse the ones that aren't back to health," he said. "The last thing we'd want to do is come down with pertussis ourselves and infect a newborn."