Whooping Cough Makes Comeback

This is the sound of whooping cough: fits of coughing punctuated by a desperate gasp as those infected try to breathe.

Before a vaccine was developed in late 1940s, this disease also known as pertussis killed more children in the United States than all other infectious diseases combined.

We thought we had it under control, but as CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, slowly but surely, it's coming back.

When he was only 5-weeks-old, Blayne Sands developed a case so severe he wound up on a ventilator.

"And the first thing that goes through your mind is, 'Where? How?'" says her mother Starla Sands. "I thought this disease was dead."

But the latest CDC statistics show it's not. In 2002, there were 9,771 infections. In 2003, that number jumped to 11,647, the highest number of cases recorded in 30 years. Officials today reported 500 cases in the Chicago area alone.

No one's exactly sure what's causing the surge, but pediatrician David Namerow is seeing cases every year. People should be aware, he says, that teenagers outgrow their immunity allowing the cycle of disease to continue.

"It's out there," says Dr. David Namerow. "Some people estimate it may be far more prevalent than we realize."

The alarming return of whooping cough has infectious disease experts scrambling to find a solution. The government is considering requiring booster shots for teens and adults, and at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, doctors are trying to protect those most at risk, newborns.

Most babies get vaccinated at 2, 4 and 6 months but Dr. Kathy Edwards is running a clinical trial to see if the vaccine works for babies in the first week or two of life.

"We hope that by being able to give the vaccine at an earlier age that we'll be able to generate antibodies that will protect babies at an earlier age," says Edwards.

If this plan works it will be one new weapon against an ancient disease: a weapon that could help babies like Blayne Sands breathe a lot easier.