Washington pertussis outbreak is very, very bad


This is one of the scariest graphs I’ve seen in a long time.

This plot, from the CDC, shows probable and confirmed cases of pertussis – whooping cough – in the state of Washington from 2011 through June 2012. Last year’s numbers are the short, light-blue-grey rectangles, and this year’s are the dark blue. The plot is by week, so you can see the 2011 numbers slowly growing across the year; then this year’s numbers suddenly taking a huge leap upward. They are reporting the new rate as 13 times larger than last year. Note that 83% of these cases have been confirmed as being pertussis, while 17% are probable. The drop in recent weeks is due to a lag in complete reporting of cases.

Got that? There are 13 times as many people – more than 2500 in total so far – getting pertussis right now as there were last year at this time in Washington.

Some of this increase may be attributable to the pertussis bacterium growing a resistance to the vaccine and booster. However, it’s curious that Washington state has seen such a large jump; the incidence of pertussis overall in that state is nine times higher than the national average.

Why would this be? Well, it so happens that the antivax movement is quite strong in Washington state, and it also so happens that parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children in higher numbers there than the rest of the nation.

Written By: Phil Plait
continue to source article at blogs.discovermagazine.com


  1. Working on the assumption that this is prodimantly caused by a poor uptake of vaccines in the area, it is so sad when children are the victims of a lack of knowledge about basic science & medicine.

    When such myths are peddled as the truth, it is an outrage.

  2. This is very concerning. I hope that it will make anti-vaxxers re-assess  their assumptions. . . will share and retweet this A LOT.  Be well, all!

  3. that is scary. I’ve treated children with whooping cough, not so often, but I have. I thought childhood vaccinations were mandatory to enter school in the US? 

  4. It’s adults who aren’t getting their booster shots that are a main part of the problem. An adult that has not had the booster can transmit the bacteria to infants who are too young to be vaccinated or those who cannot be vaccinated (or the vaccine wasn’t effective) or refuse to be vaccinated.

    Get vaccinated every 10 years, especially if you’re around young children.

  5.  yeah, I have to. I’m always needing to show proof of my vaccinations. But, if this is a resistant strain, then that is really scary.

  6. Well, sure, the kids are dying of whooping cough, but at least they’re not getting autism…

  7.  Regardless the cause, anti vaccine action, or loss of vaccine efficacy, this is most troubling. Then the anti vaccine crowd would just attack the improved vaccine on spurious reasoning anyway, so there ought to be a law. Better an intrusive law protecting children, who are not their parent’s chattel, then the ” freedom ” lost in parenting here.

  8.  You mean Oprah Winfrey, right?

    Oprah made the whole thing mainstream and growing.

  9. I witnessed two men this morning discussing their opinion that diseases didn’t really exist hundreds of years ago. The setting for this lunacy was in an ER waiting room. Apart from broken bones and injuries of that sort, I sat there jaw-dropped as I overheard them talk about modern civilization conspiring to make people unwell.

    And they weren’t philosophically waxing about evolutionary history of activity versus current sedentary lifestyles, poor diet, and industrial hazards. Nor were they saying certain viral strains didn’t exist years ago. No, they meant a government conspiracy to cause active harm amongst the citizenry via every illness under the sun.

    Interestingly, I have no doubt that if I chimed in with comparative nonsense (alien or devil caused disease) they would have probably just politely nodded their heads. Believe me, I heavily weighed the thought of interrupting the nonsense but in this case, I didn’t. My brain might not have been able to handle their response.

    Oh, and to the topic,…I’m vaccinated for pertussis. We had a mini-outbreak two years ago.


  10. I live in WA. My daughter and I have both been vaccinated and each of us has contracted pertussis in the last year. A few years ago my daughter also contracted rubella overseas after receiving the MMR vaccine in WA. Statistically, these instances are meaningless but it does make me wonder if the problem is greater than the anti vax folks.

  11. Well, with a small percentage of the population,  the vaccine doesn’t work. If everyone else is vaccinated though, the odds of you being exposed are much lower.

  12. I heard diseases and germs didn’t exist before Pandora opened that stupid box. Maybe that’s when it all started.

  13. Interesting. If you and your daughter received the vaccines from the same health care provider, I would also add quality control breach as a plausible differential.

    In fact, you may want to report your experience to the proper authorities.


  14.  The multi-component acellular pertussis vaccine, for example, is between 71-85% effective with greater effectiveness for more severe disease.[8] 

    So 15-30% are not going to be protected.  Another good reason why we need everybody to have the vaccine and raise herd immunity.


  15. That’s good. But is there anything a bit softer? A lot of anti-vaxers are worried mums, often ones into “natural remedies”. Some of them think all medicine is fake, and that there are herbal cures for everything. In the cases I’ve encountered, this comes out of the notion of a pre-industrial or pre-historic/extra-historic idyll. The notion of extrahistoricity (let me know if you have a better term for this) is not completely crazy, by the way: consider the routine censorship and destruction of texts by the church, and the tiny proportion of them that have survived at all. A little of it can be accessed via archaeology (which then becomes part of history?). However, there’s a lot more that’s simply invented, and that’s where the crazy starts.

  16. It’s always the fault of a woman who doesn’t know her place in those stories, have you noticed? At least, I can’t think of a similar story featuring a man just now.

  17. Note that this link is unproven, it’s (reasonable) speculation by Plait. Comment 77 is particularly interesting, pointing out the confusion of pertussis and parapertussis, the latter of which, the comment claims, is not prevented by the pertussis vaccine (WP backs this up). It cites the article Acellular pertussis vaccination facilitates Bordetella parapertussis infection in a rodent model of bordetellosis, though I’m not sure how relevant that is. I think the commenter was suggesting a similar mechanism may be at work in humans.

  18. Pertussis incidence is known to exhibit a “cycling” with time, even in vaccinated populations so it is potentially misleading to compare with just last year, rather than with the annual incident over the previous decade or two.

    This doesn’t let the anti-vax movement off the hook, but we should ensure the argument is as robust as possible.

    Can’t believe it is a slow week on the Astronomy front 😉

  19. As a nurse in Washington state, I encounter the anti-vaxxers all the time.  They are one of my major headaches.  I spend hours trying to convince parents and others to vaccinate.  You wouldn’t believe some of the stupid excuses I’ve heard for putting children’s lives at risk.  Some parents who have kids sick with pertussis have even claimed that other vaccinations “weakened” their child’s immune system and made them more vulnerable to pertussis.  If I facepalmed every time I heard one of these excuses, I’d have a broken nose and two black eyes.
    There is absolutely NO excuse to put a child at risk of this terrible illness. 

  20. They are – with notable exceptions.  Parents can exclude their children from the vaccination requirement if they can prove their child is allergic to some vaccine constituent or cannot take it for some other reason, such as an impaired immune system.  The biggest exception is for religious reasons.  My personal opinion is that these parents should not be allowed to send their child to public schools at all.

  21. It is like some perverse form of natural selection – with the wrong generation perishing.

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