Whooping Cough Outbreak Has Officials in Hawaii Urging Vaccinations

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Apr 25, 2024

A recent rash of whooping cough has worried health officials on Hawaii Island.

So far, 11 people have been infected with pertussis since March. A concerning level of illnesses of a once defunct illness has raised alarm bells in the tropical state. 

Hawaii Island Confirms Cases of Pertussis

Although only a relatively small number of people have contracted the illness, officials are concerned that virus can spread rapidly. 

A man wearing a white t-shirt holds a tissue to his nose.

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The amount of cases are especially concerning due to the preventability of whooping cough.

Most of Illnesses Recorded in Infants

Since newborns and infants are too young to receive their full immunizations, they are often the ones that become the most sick with preventable illnesses.

A newborn baby lays inside of a NICU chamber and is hooked up to multiple monitors

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Officials have noted that the cases appear to be spread through the community. However, it’s unclear whether the sickness came from locals or tourists.

Parents Are Recommended To Stay up to Date on Vaccinations

Now that the illness is on the rise, officials have warned that parents need to take precautions with their children’s immunizations.

A person wearing gloves administers a needle into someones arm

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As anti-vaccination movements are on the rise, more children will continue to become infected with the illness.

What Is Whooping Cough?

The illness commonly known as whooping cough is made up of the Bordetella pertussis virus.

A man wearing glasses and a beige blanket coughs into his hand

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The highly contagious respiratory infection is caused by bacteria jumping from one host to another. Usually, coughing or sneezing is enough to spread the virus.

Symptoms To Watch Out For

The illness is easily identified by the “whooping” sound that the infected makes when breathing in.

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Other symptoms include severe coughing fits, vomiting, and exhaustion during the illness.


Whooping Cough Was Once Eradicated

The illness caused by bacteria Bordetella pertussis surged in cases during the 1940s. During that time, the U.S. started programs for widespread vaccinations.

An old photograph of a doctor being fitted with PPE by two nurses also wearing white clothing

Source: Wikipedia Commons

The illness soon became as good as extinct in America with a drastic decrease in cases. 


New Resurgence Had Lead to Several Deaths

The past two decades have shown a movement for people to forgo vaccines altogether.

A concerned caregiver's hand rests gently on the forehead of a young child who is lying down. The child, appearing unwell, gazes upward with a tired expression

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Because of the fad, whooping cough has had a deadly surge in viral infections. In 2016, more than 15,000 people were infected with the illness, resulting in 7 deaths.


Concerns About Spreading the Illness in Hospitals

Since young children are easily infected by the disease, many officials warn that new hospital admissions will spread the virus like wildfire.

A woman taking her temperature.

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The illness can prove fatal for babies and young kids, so the need to keep it out of hospitals and maternity wards is of great importance.


Common Sickness in Schools

The importance of having young children immunized helps to protect them in school if a classmate happens to come in with the sickness.

A group of kids sit in a classroom with a teacher standing at the front of the room

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Viruses are spread easily in a school environment where large groups of kids gather and interact on a daily basis.


Three Major Illnesses Were Combined in 1948

During a surge of scientific innovation in the mid 19th century, the whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus vaccines were combined into one major vaccine commonly referred to as the DTP immunization.

A person wearing glasses and a mask gives another person a vaccine shot.

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Since then, the vaccine has changed slightly but has caused the prevalence of the virus to drop from 200,000 cases annually to about 5,000.


Vaccines Save Lives

Over the past 50 years, modern medicine and the advancement of vaccines have saved about 154 million lives.

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The majority of those lives, about 101 million, were infants. Since newborn babies are too young to develop their immune system, they can become deathly ill with common viruses.