Whooping Cough Outbreak in Jewish Areas of Brooklyn Enters 2nd Year


A pertussis outbreak in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn shows no signs of abating as it enters its second year, with the city’s health department reporting an increase in cases over the past four months.

The agency issued a press release on Monday signed by Jennifer Rosen and Jane Zucker, the director and assistant commissioner of the Health Department’s bureau of immunization, noting that the outbreak of the disease, also called whooping cough, “continues to spread among … the Orthodox Jewish communities in Crown Heights, Williamsburg and Boro Park.”

They are urging all expectant women to get vaccinated, since infants are most at risk during their first year of life. Women should consult a doctors as to the safest time to be vaccinated. Children should be up to date with pertussis-containing vaccines.

The current outbreak, which began in October of 2014, has caused 109 reported cases. About 90 percent of these are children, of which more than half were unvaccinated or not up to date with their immunizations. Infants in their first year account for 34 percent of cases.

Of the 37 mothers of infants with pertussis, only three of them have received the recommended shot.

“Delays in on-time initiation and completion of the pertussis-containing vaccine series remain problematic in the affected communities, facilitating ongoing transmission,” the department said in their alert.

Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that begins with respiratory symptoms that last for 7-10 days, followed by onset of cough. The classic pertussis cough includes persistent coughing fits, an inspiratory “whoop,” apnea, and vomiting. Babies may not cough at all but may have life-threatening pauses in breathing.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, before vaccines became available in the 1940s, about 200,000 children got sick with it each year in the United States and about 9,000 died. Now there are about 10,000 to 40,000 cases reported each year and up to 20 deaths.

As opposed to the recent outbreaks of measles, the city is not blaming unvaccinated children for the current outbreak. They stress, however, that a child who is up to date with immunization is eight times less likely to catch the illness. Unvaccinated children are also putting others at greater risk.