THE death of three babies in recent weeks from pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, has raised concern.
The number of cases of the disease, which had almost been eradicated, is increasing and has almost tripled in Alicante Province. According to data provided by the Ministry of Health in 2014 there were 168 cases of the disease in the province, compared with 63 the previous year.
Experts say among the causes of the increase is the short duration of the effectiveness of the latest generation of vaccines. “Years ago, vaccines that were used gave many reactions, such as fever or convulsions and could not be applied to children with neurological problems,” explained Jose Pastor, head of Paediatrics at Elche General Hospital. He added: “In recent years, the safety of these drugs has improved, but the down side is that the protection period is less.”
The previous vaccine protected for up to 14 years, compared with six for the new vaccine. This shorter period of protection and the ease with which whopping cough is transmitted, are two of the causes behind the significant increase in cases.
Despite the alarm generated by the death of three babies in the province, paediatricians remind parents that the condition is not usually serious and often goes undiagnosed and without major complications. “The most complicated cases occur in babies under six months who have not received full immunisation,” said Pastor. Two of the infants that died in recent weeks were less than two months old and had not been immunised. The third had only received one dose.
In Valencia Region, infants are vaccinated for the disease at two, four and six months and then receive a booster at 18 months.
Now, pregnant women can also receive a vaccine from 32 weeks to help transmit antibodies to the foetus to help protect against whooping cough. The Valencia Region is one of a few that has followed the Ministry of Health’s recommendation to carry out the vaccination programme in pregnant women.
Although since 1940 the incidence of this disease had dropped dramatically, Pastor argued that the disease “was never entirely eradicated in Spain.”