JUSTIN, Texas — During the day, five-month-old Christopher seems happy and healthy.
At night, he's up coughing — sometimes for hours.
Pertussis — better known as whooping cough — is often called "the 100-day cough," and Christopher had classic signs of it for weeks.
"When he coughed, it would get so bad that he would turn blue around the mouth... his lips would turn blue," said Haylie Brown, Christopher's mother. "It was terrifying, absolutely terrifying."
It took three visits to the doctor, ending with an expensive trip to the emergency room, before Christopher's condition was correctly diagnosed.
He spent four days in the hospital.
Shae Corbitt said the same thing happened to her three-month-old daughter Madilynn, who landed in Cook Children's Medical Center for five days after she was repeatedly told her daughter just had a cold.
"She couldn't breathe," Corbitt said. "You'd hear her cough, cough, cough — then she'd do the 'whoop' ... to get her breath."
She said some clinics don't seem to be getting the message. "I don't know why they're taking it lightly," Corbitt said. "There's something that needs to be done about it."
North Texas is experiencing its worst outbreak of whooping cough in a decade. Tarrant County has had more than 300 cases so far this year; Dallas County reports more than 100.
North Texas health authorities have warned area physicians about the outbreak. On July 17, area physicians received a health advisory after the death of a three-week-old infant from pertussis.
In its early stages, pertussis mimics the common cold. Whooping cough is often not suspected or diagnosed until more severe symptoms appear. They include:
- fits of rapid, high-pitched coughs
Anitbiotics can shorten the amount of time a patient is contagious. In most cases, children under one year old are most seriously affected.
Infants don't receive a first vaccination until two months of age. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, more than half of infants younger 12 months who get pertussis must be hospitalized. Of those infants who are hospitalized with pertussis approximately one in 100 will die.
Health officials are urging doctors to consider again this once rare disease to limit the spread of the contagious illness.
"If an individual — whether it be a child or an adult — presents to your clinic complaining of cold-like symptoms and persistent cough, put pertussis on your list of differentials as far as why they're having those symptoms," urged Dallas County Health and Human Services Dr. Christopher Perkins.
"It was a very scary situation to be put through," said Haylie Brown. "Especially at his age, when he was so young."
Haylie Brown and She Corbitt want to raise awareness. Their entire families had to be treated for pertussis. The infants underwent a litany of X-rays, blood draws and other tests, when a simple swab could have saved them all from a hundred days of suffering.