Whooping cough is on the increase

by Symptom Advice on January 6, 2012

By Dr. Jean Hudson Published: 2:00 AM – 12/21/11

Thanks to vaccinations, pertussis — commonly known as whooping cough — once seemed a thing of the past, seldom heard about in our schools. Today, unfortunately, notes sent home by the school nurse are beginning to tell a different story: Whooping cough is on the rise.

Experts are not entirely sure why there has been a resurgence in this highly contagious bacterial infection. Some believe current infant vaccinations may no longer be enough, and immunity begins to decline during the adolescent years. In fact, the government is now considering a booster shot to strengthen immunity to this sometimes deadly disease. so how do you know if what you’re dealing with is actually whooping cough? to hear the classic cough and “whoop,” go to healthyorange.com and follow the whooping cough links on the front page. It’s distressing. Worse, it can be fatal, particularly in the first year of life.

That’s why hospitals and obstetricians are beginning to offer not only flu shots but also Tdap boosters (tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis) to new parents, grandparents and other close contacts of newborns to prevent transmission of the disease.

The problem is that older children and adults usually don’t “whoop” when struggling for air, which can make recognizing the disease difficult. What they may experience is paroxysmal coughing, or a severe coughing attack, that can result in vomiting.

Of course, at this time of year the persistent cough can easily be confused with other cough illnesses, often caused by viruses. Pertussis (whooping cough), however, is a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics — if diagnosed early enough.

While deaths from whooping cough have recently risen, cases have increased, too, with 27,550 reported nationwide in 2010. In Orange County this year, we have seen 21 cases, 14 of those since October. Doctors in the county (and state) have been alerted to “think pertussis” when seeing patients with chronic cough.

So protect yourself and your family — keep your shots up-to-date, stay home if you’re sick, don’t ignore persistent symptoms, and keep that handwashing going.

P.S. You’ve had your flu shot, right?

Dr. Jean Hudson, MD, MPH, is the Orange County Health Commissioner.

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