Pertussis, often called whooping cough, is a common disease that peaks every 3 to 5 years. Because the disease is highly infectious, once an outbreak starts it can spread rapidly. Before a vaccine was available, pertussis killed 5,000 to 10,000 people in the U.S. every year. Currently, documented cases are on the increase and Texas could see the highest number of recorded cases in 50 years.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has issued a health alert. Officials are urging people to make sure that their vaccinations and their children’s vaccination are up-to-date.
Whooping cough mainly affects infants younger than 6 months and kids 11-18 whose immunity has started to fade from earlier vaccinations.
The first symptoms are similar to those of the common cold. Children may experience a runny nose, sneezing, a mild cough and a low- grade fever. After about 1 to 2 weeks the dry cough evolves into a much harsher coughing spell that can last more than a minute. A child can turn red or purple from coughing so hard and may make the characteristic whooping sound when breathing in. Some children may actually vomit. Between coughing spells the child may look and feel okay.
Sometimes infants don’t cough or whoop like older kids do, but look as if they are gasping for air. Their face can turn red and they may actually stop breathing for a few seconds during a bad session.
The bacteria that causes pertussis is spread from person to person through tiny drops of fluid from an infected person's nose or mouth. These may become airborne when the person sneezes, coughs, or laughs. Adults and children become infected by inhaling the drops or getting the drops on their hands and then touching their mouths or noses. The time that someone is most contagious is during the earliest stages after the cough begins and continues for up to about 2 weeks.
Prevention begins with the pertussis vaccine. It’s part of the DTaP immunization that includes diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis. The immunizations are routinely given in 5 doses before the child’s sixth birthday. The AAP recommends that kids ages 11 to 12 get a booster shot of the new combination vaccine, Tdap, to boost their immunity. Young adults entering college should also make sure that they are up-to-date on their pertussis vaccination. Crowded classrooms and dorms are the perfect breeding ground for contagious diseases.
Infants younger than 2 months cannot be vaccinated. To help protect those babies the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pregnant women receive the pertussis vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of gestation.
The name “whooping cough” sounds a little comical, but if you’ve ever witnessed a child in the throws of a pertussis coughing attack, it’s anything but funny. This disease can be fatal for little ones, so make sure you’re child is current on all of his or her DTap vaccinations and Tdap booster shots. If you are pregnant you can help protect your infant by getting the pertussis vaccination while you are carrying.
Research shows that adults and children who are not vaccinated are 8 times more likely to get whooping cough. Those that have received the vaccine may still get the disease but it tends to be less severe and doesn’t last quite as long.
Many of the cases in Texas are concentrated in the Fort Worth and Arlington area. Statewide there have been 2 deaths, both were infants that were too young to recieve the vaccine.
If your child has been diagnosed with whooping cough and is being treated at home, seek immediate medical care if he or she has difficulty breathing or shows signs of dehydration.
Sources: Gordon Dickson, http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/09/03/5130886/whooping-cough-outbreak-could.html