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Experts believe whooping cough occurs in cycles and peaks every three to five years. But they have been startled to see peaks this high. Vaccinations are supposed to tamp down the amount of infection in the population and make the valleys in the cycles longer, said Pejman Rohani, a University of Michigan researcher who is co-leader of a federally funded study of whooping cough trends.
The government recommends that children get vaccinated in five doses, with the first shot at age 2 months and the final one between 4 and 6 years. A booster shot is recommended around 11 or 12.
Vaccination rates for young children are good -- about 84 percent of 3-year-olds have gotten the recommended number of shots. But fewer than 70 percent of adolescents have gotten all their shots. Most states require pertussis vaccinations for school attendance.
In a possible indicator of a problem with the vaccine, investigators in Washington state were alarmed to see high rates of whooping cough in youngsters around 13 and 14.
Whooping cough typically starts with cold-like symptoms that can include a runny nose, congestion, fever and a mild cough. The CDC advises parents to see a doctor if they or their children develop a prolonged or severe cough. Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics, the earlier the better.
Health authorities are girding for what may be a bad couple of years.
"There is a lot of pertussis out there, and there may be more coming to a place near you," Schuchat said.
CDC information on whooping cough:
CDC-recommended video of child with whooping cough:
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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