PERSONAL HEALTH : Whooping Cough on Comeback Trail


Whooping cough--once among the most feared of all childhood diseases--is making a comeback.

Although public health authorities do not foresee epidemics, doctors say the young are needlessly at risk because they are not fully immunized.

Children should receive a series of five immunizations: at 2, 4 and 6 months, between 15 and 18 months, and by the time they enter school.

Nationally, 4,700 cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by Nov. 5, compared with 4,000 in 1992 and 2,700 in 1991. The CDC says the upturn may be a predictable stage of the disease’s normal cycle. It surges about every four years.


Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease caused by bacteria that live in the mouth, nose and throat. It causes severe coughing spasms that can interfere with eating, drinking and breathing.

Although deaths from the disease are rare today, complications from whopping cough are fairly common: Pneumonia is reported in 10% of the children who get whooping cough, the CDC says.

The vaccine does not protect people forever. It begins to wane during adolescence, leaving teen-agers and adults vulnerable to infection. In those age groups, however, whooping cough is often dismissed as a cold. Still, teen-agers and adults can transmit the disease to young children--making it doubly important that children be immunized on a tight schedule.