Cases of whooping cough are on the rise across the country and NASCAR star Jeff Gordon is racing to end it.
The four-time NASCAR cup series champion is raising awareness as a spokesman for the Sounds of Pertussis Campaign.
Gordon raced Sunday at the Phoenix International Raceway in the Advocare 500. While he was in Phoenix he spoke with local communities about preventing pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.
Gordon, father of two, is encouraging all parents to get vaccinated against the disease, through the TDaP booster shot, to prevent the spread of the disease to their children.
He became aware of the dangers of pertussis six years ago after his daughter, Ella, was born. In the checklist of things to prepare for their daughter the Gordons didn’t realize they needed to stay current on their shots to prevent spreading the disease to their child.
Even if parents are vaccinated when they are younger they can still pass it onto their children because the immunity wears off 10 years after the last shot, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Part of the campaign is getting parents to realize, “they are the ones giving it to the children and the vaccination has worn off. It’s protecting them to make sure adults aren’t getting it as well,” Gordon said.
“They are giving it to an infant and not knowing it. It is about education.”
Gordon added: “This is something that a lot of people like myself who think it is a past problem. It’s back on the rise and we didn’t realize it. We weren’t fully educated.”
Researchers found, “family members were responsible for spreading the disease to the baby in up to 80 percent of cases. More specifically, parents were responsible up to 50 percent of the time,” according to a press release from the Sounds of Pertussis Campaign.
Gordon said parents wouldn’t question whether or not to get vaccinated after hearing the cough.
“Once you hear that sound of an infant who has that wheezing whooping cough they wont think twice,” he said. “To me, as a parent, it is not a choice. This is just another step of what you can do to keep them healthy.”
Gordon said first thing parents should do “is go to soundsofpertussis.com and educate yourself and I promise you will want to tell your friends.”
To prevent the spread of pertussis Gordon said, “get the TDaP booster. Trying to get more parents, grandparents out there and tell others.”
Whooping cough is caused by the bacteria Bordetellapertussis, which negatively impacts the respiratory system.
The nickname whooping cough comes from the severity of the cough that forces those afflicted with the disease to gasp for air while coughing, producing a “whoop” sound.
Nationally reported cases of whooping cough have been on the rise. The nation is “experiencing one of the largest outbreaks of reported pertussis cases in approximately 50 years with more than 41,000 reported cases and 18 deaths in 2012,” according to the press release from the Sounds of Pertussis Campaign.
Pertussis is also on the rise in Arizona. This year in Arizona 1,037 cases of pertussis have been reported and 788 cases have been confirmed, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Ahwatukee not immune
Pertussis has affected the Ahwatukee community as well.
“Last year in the winter months we saw a significant amount of pertussis,” said Dr. Mary Jo Kutler, DO, of Ahwatukee Pediatrics.
Kutler said part of the reason the disease has been more prevalent is because people choose not to get the vaccination and infect others, and especially the people they are in close contact with.
“In Ahwatukee and in the East Valley we have a group of people who choose not to get vaccinated,” Kutler said. “Anybody can spread the disease.”
Vaccination is key to preventing the disease from spreading through a community.
“People who don’t get vaccinated have increased the chance of disease,” Kutler said.
The cough can be lengthy and is even referred to as the, “90-day cough.” For patients who wait to seek treatment the cough can last up to three months, according to Kutler.
Even if someone contracts pertussis it’s still important to seek treatment, according to Kutler.
“They need the treatment because they can spread the disease to others.”
For more information, visit the Sounds of Pertussis Campaign’s website at www.soundsofpertussis.com.
To get more information about pertussis, visit www.cdc.gov.
• Matt Covert is a sophomore at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is interning this semester for the AFN.