What is whooping cough?
Information from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment notes pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease spread through talking, sneezing or coughing. It is caused by the bacterium bordetella pertussis.
Whooping cough is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. It causes cold-like symptoms followed by a long, severe cough that can last for weeks.
It affects people of all ages but is most serious for and most common in infants and small children, especially those too young to be vaccinated or who are not fully protected. Adolescents and adults often have a milder disease but can still spread it.
After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths which result in a “whooping” sound. It can be fatal, especially in babies less than 1 year of age.
For more information, contact the Barton County Health Department at 620-793-1902. It has a whooping cough fact sheet available.
A cough may not be just a cough. Barton County is one of several counties in the state in the midst of a whooping cough outbreak, said Barton County Health Department Administrator Lily Akings.
There has been one confirmed case and other probable cases of whooping cough in Barton County, she said. The confirmed case of pertussis was in a child and the probable cases may have been contracted at a large gathering of people.
According to the Akings, Kansas, along with other states, is experiencing of an outbreak of the highly contagious and potentially lethal respiratory disease. Sixteen Kansas counties reported 107 confirmed cases by July 10, versus 52 in all of Kansas in 2011.
“Summertime brings many occasions where friends, families, co-workers, and children gather together to celebrate holidays, travel, and hold reunions,”she said. “But this summer we need to be vigilant about a disease that most of us thought we had left long ago in childhood.”
What to do
The best way to protect against pertussis is immunization, Akings said. “This is a serious disease. Parents need to be aware that getting babies immunized on time is vital in protecting them from this outbreak and from other diseases.”
Vaccine for pertussis is included in the DTaP combination vaccine that needs to be given to babies at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 12 months. The next dose is given after age 4 prior to kindergarten/school entry.
“We know now that a person’s immunity to whooping cough doesn’t last for a lifetime and we need boosters for that as well as tetanus and diphtheria,” Akings said. Those who are able to receive the TDaP booster (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) includes persons age 10 through 64 and they should get that vaccine when due for their next tetanus booster.
According to the KDHE, in addition to the infants’ pertussis vaccine, “a pertussis vaccine for adolescents and adults, called TDaP , is recommended as a one-time booster. It is especially important for anyone who has close contact with babies younger than 12 months to get a dose of TDaP to help protect the baby from whooping cough. This includes parents, siblings, grandparents, health care providers and childcare providers. If someone does experience pertussis after immunization, his or her case is usually milder.”
Akings said her department recommends anyone with an unexplained acute cough illness or who has had close contact with a person with whooping cough should contact their health care provider. Early diagnosis and treatment can shorten the contagious period, and antibiotics can be prescribed to all household and other close contacts to prevent spread of the disease.
“Parents should also consider protecting their babies, especially those under 6 months of age, by keeping them out of crowds and away from anyone who has a cough illness,” Akings said.
A look elsewhere
Reported cases of pertussis vary from year to year and tend to peak every 3-5 years, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, 27,550 cases of pertussis were reported in the U.S. – and many more cases go unreported. Twenty-seven deaths were reported – 25 of these deaths were in children younger than 1 year old.
Since the 1980s, there’s been an increase in the number of cases of pertussis, especially among teens (10–19 years of age) and babies younger than 6 months of age. In 2010, an increase in reported cases among 7-10 year olds was seen.
According to the CDC, worldwide, it is estimated that there are 30–50 million pertussis cases and about 300,000 deaths per year. Despite generally high coverage with childhood pertussis vaccines, pertussis is one of the leading causes of vaccine-preventable deaths worldwide. Most deaths occur in young infants who are either unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated. Ninety percent of all cases occur in the developing world.