Health Library

Categories > Children’s Health > Vaccinations

They’re b-a-a-c-k!

Rickets and whooping cough—these childhood diseases are making a comeback. Despite modern medicine’s best efforts to eliminate them, they’re still with us—but they can be prevented. Here’s what to do to protect your child from these conditions.

Rickets. Until recently, rickets, an illness that causes bone deformities due to a lack of vitamin D or calcium, wasn’t considered much of a threat to kids in the U.S. That’s because back in the 1930s, vitamin D was added to milk, which helped to prevent the disease. But things are changing.

Why the comeback? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the increase in popularity of soy-based milks and a widening acceptance of breast milk to provide important nutrients for babies have deprived many kids of getting enough vitamin D. Add to the mix kids who don’t get a lot of sunlight (which provides vitamin D) because they are more often staying indoors in day-care centers and because parents are afraid their children might get skin cancer from long exposure to the sun.

Prevention: Make sure your child gets enough calcium so bone mass can develop. Most children need about 800 mg of calcium a day. The largest source of dietary calcium is milk and other dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. Serve your child items fortified with calcium or vitamin D, such as orange juice, pudding or dry cereal.

Pertussis (whooping cough). Pertussis is a serious infection of the respiratory system caused by bacteria. It’s characterized by coughing spells that may last more than a minute, causing the child to gasp for air with a “whooping” sound (although infants may not “whoop” as older children do). Because the prolonged coughing lasts for weeks, it can lead to dehydration, vomiting and even death. A vaccine was close to wiping out pertussis in the U.S.—until now. The CDC is seeing a rise in pertussis incidents, particularly among infants too young to have received the vaccine.

Prevention: Keep infants away from those with cough disorders. Follow the guidelines for the vaccine: five shots of DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), given at two months, four months, six months, 15–18 months and 4–6 years, with a booster Tdap at age 11–12 years. The booster is also recommended for parents, grandparents or anyone who will have close contact with an infant. Call your doctor immediately if you suspect whooping cough; it can be easily treated with antibiotics.