Pertussis, or whooping cough, is one of those vaccine-preventable diseases that have been on the rise because of waning immunity and low rates of revaccination, as well as fears of some parents.
One issue that has concerned some parents is the rare occurrence of fevers and seizures, or so-called febrile seizures, in babies post-vaccination. Such seizures typically don't have long-term effects, though they're certainly frightening for parents. But a new study from Denmark suggests that it's the lack of vaccination and occurrence of the disease that might be linked to a worse problem epilepsy.
Dr. Morten Olsen from the Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark and colleagues examined medical registries that included all Danish hospitals. In particular, they analyzed data from 4,700 patients with pertussis (based on hospital diagnoses) born between 1978 and 2011. In addition, they identified 47,000 people of the same age and gender who had not had the disease to serve as a control population.
Of the pertussis patients, 90 or 1.7 percent developed epilepsy by the age of 10 years. The incidence of epilepsy in the controls was somewhat lower 0.9 percent. Although small, that difference was statistically significant.
While these results certainly indicate a link between the two diseases, the observational, retrospective study design means that no causation can be deduced from this study. However, the possibility that pertussis might, in some manner, affect a child's neurological development must be considered.
Also, given the fact that pertussis can be fatal in young children and babies, it behooves parents and other caregivers to seriously consider the risks inherent in the disease compared to the fraudulent claims by anti-vaccine advocates.