Five years ago there was a whooping cough outbreak in East Mississippi. By mid-summer of that year, more than 50 cases of this highly contagious virus were reported in Neshoba County alone. One infant on the Choctaw Indian Reservation even died as a result of the outbreak.
Within the last three years more than 400 cases have been reported in Alabama.
'In 2010 California had an outbreak of pertussis and they had ten infants to die,' says Dr. Rebecca James. 'So, all the states are realizing that to really protect those young infants we need to develop a broad based immunity within the community.'
Local health district officer, Dr. Rebecca James says although children are required to get vaccinated for pertussis prior to entering school, it turns out that more must be done.
'Whooping cough immunity tends to get weaker over time. So, that's a prime time to get vaccinated. We vaccinate them when they're very young, as early as we can to protect them, but the youngest kids and the very elderly again are the ones that are most likely to have serious problems.'
Whooping cough affects the lungs and spreads through coughing and sneezing. Infants who are too young to get vaccinated are the most at risk.
'It's a miserable thing. If you talk to any of the adults who got it, they'll tell you they coughed and coughed for months. Even once they've taken the medicine and the bacteria is gone, it just makes you cough, cough, cough and be miserable.'
The vaccination that's being offered in Mississippi to help middle school students ward off the virus is called the TDAP.. It's an immunization shot that serves as a booster vaccination for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The vaccination can be administered at any health department or private physician.