MARQUETTE - The state of Michigan - as well as the Upper Peninsula - is seeing an increase in whooping cough cases that may be attributed to a decline in immunizations, according to state and local officials.
Marquette County Health Department statistics indicate there have been more than 125 cases of pertussis - or whooping cough - in the U.P. this year. That number would reflect the highest total since at least 2002.
"The real issue is that we've got a population that's not being immunized for pertussis and it's coming back on us," Marquette County Health Director Fred Benzie said. "The problem is that even though with vaccines, preventable diseases have been pushed to such a low level in the last 100 years - it's one of the biggest accomplishments of public health - people tend to get complacent."
Nurse Susan Peel gives a whooping cough vaccination to a student at Inderkum High School in September 2011, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP photo)
Outside of 2010 - when there were 122 recorded cases - the U.P. saw 161 cases of pertussis between 2002 and 2011.
As of the end of Septmber, there had been 597 cases of pertussis reported throughout the state this year.
Benzie said he thinks the immunization rates are slipping due to inactivity on the part of the medical community.
"I think it's more that people just aren't getting this immunization at all and pracitioners and clinics - ourselves included - just aren't pushing it hard enough," Benzie said.
In order to be fully vaccinated against pertussis, children should receive one immunization shot at 2, 4 and 6 months of age and another between 12 and 15 months. Additionally, kids should receive a booster at 11 years.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 27,550 cases of pertussis reported in 2010. The numbers have been climbing since the 1980s and the 2010 total marks the highest number of cases since 1959, when there were 50,000.
Worldwide, there are an estimated 30 million to 50 million cases and 300,000 per year, according to the CDC.
Pertussis typically begins with mild upper respiratory symptoms and includes a runny nose and mild cough. Over time, the illness progresses to include a fever and a severe cough, which often presents in spasms.
Pertussis is known as whooping cough due to the "whooping" sound people make when gasping for air following coughing fits.
"The problem with pertussis is that it's not quickly diagnosed," Benzie said. "Pertussis comes on gradually and it takes two or three weeks until you're coughing bad enough that you say 'man, I'd better go see a doctor.'"
Though anyone can contract pertussis, it is most dangerous for infants and small children, who can be overwhelmed by the coughing and are most at risk for complications like pneumonia, seizures and death.
"The problem with pertussis is that it kills infants," Benzie said. "We don't want to lose a child, and the best way to protect them is to become immunized."
MCHD Medical Director Teresa Frankovich agreed.
"The best way to protect your family is to make sure that everyone in the household is up-to-date on their pertussis vaccinations," Frankovich said in a written statement. "It is also important to have your child seen by a health care provider, if he is sick with pertussis-like symptoms, before sending him to school."
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.