Schumer wants CDC action on whooping cough

Sen. Charles Schumer talks to editors and reporters Sen. Charles Schumer talks to editors and reporters at Newsday in Melville. (April 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz

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Sen. Charles Schumer called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Sunday to take action to head off a rapid rise in the number of whooping cough cases.

"Whooping cough is rearing its ugly head and we need to get on top of this highly contagious disease before it becomes too big to control," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference at his Manhattan office.

He wants the CDC to provide free vaccinations, launch a public information campaign for adults who haven't been vaccinated since the age of 18 and ensure adequate supplies of the vaccine are available.

The CDC hasn't had a chance to look at Schumer's letter but plans to read and respond to it, said spokesman Tom Skinner.

The CDC said in a statement last week that 2012 could be the worst year for whooping cough in the United States in more than five decades.

In New York State, incidences of whooping cough have risen threefold in the past year, with 1,288 cases reported so far this year. About a quarter of those cases happened on Long Island, with 270 in Suffolk County and 63 in Nassau County.

Nationwide, the 18,000 reported cases are nearly double the number of cases reported by this time last year, Schumer said, citing CDC data.

The bacterium that causes whooping cough, or pertussis, is different from those that cause the common cold, and can infect all ages, though the weaker immune systems of young children and elderly adults are most susceptible, according to the CDC.

Pertussis, which is highly contagious, is easy to distinguish in its later stages by the characteristic whooping sound of the coughing it produces, making it hard for the patient to breathe.

Reaching out to adults is important because even if they experience a mild form of whooping cough, they can transmit it to their children, who do not handle the disease as easily, Schumer said.

Research, including a 2011 study by the CDC, suggests that the whooping cough vaccine most people receive as children loses effectiveness over the years.

"What we as nation have to do is continue to emphasize the importance of children getting vaccinated and people over the age of 11 getting their booster shots," Skinner said.

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