Parts of the United States and Canada are dealing with severe outbreaks of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough. It is a particularly serious disease in infants and at one time was the cause of more 5,000 to 10,000 deaths annually across North America.
The US appears to be having its worst year in more than five decades with more than 18,000 cases reported so far. Four provinces in Canada including British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick have seen large outbreaks of as many as 2000 people affected, including an infant who died from the disease.
The early symptoms of whooping cough can look like the common cold with runny nose, cough, sneezing and a low-grade fever, but it can quickly turn more serious with infants gasping for breath and older children suffering from violent coughing fits and trouble breathing.
It is believed that this latest outbreak is due, in part, to parents who are avoiding vaccinating their children. Children under six years of age require five doses of the vaccine, and teens will need a booster.
Whooping cough can lead to pneumonia, brain damage and even death, particularly in infants under six months of age. Physicians and public health officials are urging parents to seek out vaccinations for their children, if they have not already done so.