Whooping Cough Outbreak: Do You Need a Vaccine?

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

(Memphis)   We're on your side with a health alert.

A disease that was one of the leading causes of death in children a century ago is making a deadly comeback.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports whooping cough could reach its highest level in 50 years. 

Doctors aren't absolutely positive why it's happening, but they say parents can take some important steps to protect their families.  

Like any first time mom, at 37 weeks, Marcie Mulhern is more than ready for her baby's big arrival, "Room is ready, we've gotten the crib and bottles."

She even installed the car seat! Mulhern also understands preparing for her newborn means protecting her health.

Friday, she was still wearing the bandage from the whooping cough vaccine she got at her doctor's office earlier that morning.  

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection that affects the throat and lungs.

Most adults who get it are fine, but it can be deadly in young children.

"She had just talked to me a little bit about how there's been recent outbreaks," explains Mulhern of what her OB/GYN told her.

According to the CDC, there have been 18,000 whooping cough cases reported so far this year.

That's double last year, plus there have been nine deaths.

Some researchers blame a switch in vaccines. 

Dr. Jon McCullers chairs the Pediatrics Department at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, and is also an infectious disease specialist.

He says the whooping cough comeback is also due to a lack of vaccinations, "With a lot of parents now electing to either defer or delay or refuse their vaccines out right, we're seeing now tens of thousands of cases."

McCullers says the vaccine is given in several doses and is most effective after the third.

Which means young babies with unvaccinated parents are at an even greater risk.

"Teenagers are supposed to get a booster vaccine, and then when you're an adult, every 10 years," McCullers says.

Pregnant women are especially encouraged to get the shot. Mulhern says it's the least she can do.

"I think it's extremely important, I think anything you can do to ensure the health of your child is the right thing to do."

Officials with the Shelby County Health Department say they've only had 8 confirmed cases of whooping cough this year, so it's not a major concern. 

Parents do however, need to consider up to date immunizations as the school year begins soon. 

If you have questions about whooping cough or the vaccine, contact your physician or call the Health Department at 222-9331.