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Once thought to be under control, Whooping Couch is on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Thursday that nearly 18,000 cases have been reported so far. That's twice the number reported at this point last year. At this pace, the number for the entire year will be the highest since 1959, when 40,000 illnesses were reported.
Nine children have died, and health officials called on adults - especially pregnant women and those who spend time around children - to get a booster shot as soon as possible.
"My biggest concern is for the babies. They're the ones who get hit the hardest," said Mary Selecky, chief of the health department in Washington, one of the states with the biggest outbreaks. Washington and Wisconsin have reported more than 3,000 cases each, and high numbers have been seen in a number of other states, including New York, Minnesota and Arizona. Texas is also reporting a higher number of cases than normal.
Health investigators are trying to figure out what's going on, and theories include better detection and reporting of cases, some sort of evolution in the bacteria that cause the illness, or shortcomings in the vaccine.
The vaccine that had been given to young children for decades was replaced in the late 1990s following concerns about rashes, fevers and other side effects. While the new version is considered safer, it is possible it isn't as effective long term, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, who oversees the CDC's immunization and respiratory disease programs.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious disease that can strike people of any age but is most dangerous to children. Its name comes from the sound children make as they gasp for breath.
Experts believe whooping cough occurs in cycles and peaks every three to five years. But they have been startled to see peaks this high. Vaccinations are supposed to tamp down the amount of infection in the population and make the val