The outbreak of pertussis cases in Clark County follows a national trend that shows that whooping cough rates reached a 50-year high last year.
Clark County has had a record 117 confirmed and suspected cases of pertussis since Oct. 1, up from 98 before the Thanksgiving holiday, Clark County Combined Health District Director Charles Patterson said.
Patterson expressed frustration Friday after announcing the pertussis outbreak continued to climb in the area.
“There is some frustration because, if one family with the disease has extended family of 10 people, and each of them spread it to five or 10 people, it makes it difficult to stop,” Patterson said.
The disease, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease known for uncontrollable, violent coughing that often makes it hard to breathe.
This year, Ohio has seen a 20 percent increase in reported pertussis cases, compared to 2012. As of Nov. 2, there had been 901 cases reported in 2013, compared with 742 on the same date in 2012.
Clark, Madison, Pickaway, Licking, Delaware and Richland counties have the highest rates of the disease statewide, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
ODH is expected to provide an update on the number of pertussis cases statewide this week, said Tessie Pollock, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health.
But whooping cough cases have been rising nationwide since the 1980s, according to a new study by the Food and Drug Administration.
Reasons for the increase are multi-pronged, but may be due in part to changes to the pertussis vaccine, according to the study.
The FDA conducted the study in baboons, an animal that reproduces whooping cough similar to humans. Two groups of baboons were vaccinated with whole-cell pertussis vaccine and the accelluar vaccine, which replaced the use of whole-cell vaccine in the 1990 due to concerns about sides effects.
“Animals that received an acellular pertussis vaccine had the bacteria in their airways for up to six weeks and were able to spread the infection to unvaccinated animals. In contrast, animals that received whole-cell vaccine cleared the bacteria within three weeks,” according to a news release from Jennifer Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the FDA.
Other reasons for the increase in whooping cough are that fewer children are getting the pertussis vaccine, improved diagnostic testing, and increased reporting.
But the FDA study indicates that the newer vaccine may not stop the spread of the disease as well as its predecessor.
“This research suggests that although individuals immunized with an acellular pertussis vaccine may be protected from disease, they may still become infected with the bacteria without always getting sick and are able to spread infection to others, including young infants who are susceptible to pertussis disease,” the news release said.
Patterson has seen an increase in area residents seeking the pertussis vaccine. He said the health department has ordered extra pertussis vaccine in recent weeks to meet the demand.
Patterson urges those who are around infants or those with compromised immune systems to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
He also said those diagnosed with the disease need to stay home from school or work until they have been on an antibiotic regime for five days.
“These cases are still continuing to mount. We’re in uncharted territory. We’ve never seen these types of numbers in Clark County or the region,” Patterson said.
“It can potentially be fatal. There may be only a few at great risk. But they don’t have to be exposed to the disease when it can be prevented.”