As I’ve been pushing my own legislators here in Vermont to close the big fat public health pothole called the ‘philosophical exemption,’ I often ask them to pay attention to the pertussis outbreak in Washington State. So I hope they’ll take note of Phil Plait’s update over at Bad Astronomy:
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.
The really scary part is the possibility that this year’s graph (the tall bars) will rise through the season in the same way last year’s graph (the shorter gray bars) did as the year progressed. It’s vital to note that this is a 13-fold jump from last year. What does this tell us? When our vaccination levels drop enough to allow outbreaks, we won’t necessarily get the slow-motion, gentle warning we’d ideally want. Epidemics don’t work that way; they’re not polite, and in many cases, certain factors can line up to create a tipping point beyond which the numbers balloon. The graph above shows how fast things can get ugly.
You should read the whole thing at Bad Astronomy — a must-read generally. But in case you don’t go, DO heed Plait’s take-home:
Pertussis is a terrible, terrible disease. It puts infants at grave risk of dying, and eight infants so far this year have been killed by pertussis in the US. Even if it doesn’t kill them, it’s a horrible thing to put them through.
Vaccines save lives. Talk to your board-certified doctor and find out if you need one, or a booster.I did, and my whole family is up-to-date with their vaccinations. I refuse to be a part of spreading a disease that can kill anyone, let alone babies, and I refuse to be silent about it.
See: Washington pertussis outbreak is very, very bad
and some of Phil’s other links:
– Not vaccinated? No kisses!
– Whooping cough outbreak in Boulder
– Pertussis can kill, and you can help stop it
– Pertussis and measles are coming back