Health & Medicine

Increase in whooping cough cases concerns Kentucky health officials

State health officials are encouraging parents to be wary of the looming threat of whooping cough in Kentucky.

Whooping cough is spread by miniscule droplets that carry the disease, so "we want people to be aware and do the preventive kinds of things," said Lois Davis, public health nursing manager for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department.

Preventive measures would include making sure that children are current on their vaccines, including getting a booster shot before entering sixth grade and that adults who work with children have been vaccinated. Basic hygiene, such as washing your hands or using anti- bacterial gel, also is important.

There have been several outbreaks of whooping cough, also called pertussis, across the country this year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were nearly 4,000 cases reported in Washington state, up from 363 in 2011. The CDC also reports substantial outbreaks in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

There have been a higher-than-normal 359 cases in Kentucky this year, said Beth Fisher, a spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

This summer there were 20 confirmed cases in Estill County, which caused the local health department to offer special vaccination clinics, she said.

Three Rivers District Health Department in Owenton, which serves Owen, Carroll, Gallatin and Pendleton counties, will offer shots at fall festivals in the district to stave off the spread of the disease.

After 86 cases were confirmed in the area, the Northern Kentucky Health Department, which serves Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton counties, is offering vaccines for $4.

The Fayette County health department isn't planning special clinics at this time, so people who are worried about the illness should contact their family physicians, said Davis Some pharmacies, such as Walgreens, are offering the shots in their stores.

There is an adequate supply of vaccine for children and adults, Fisher said.

One of the signs of whooping cough is a persistent cough that can last several weeks. Parents who suspect their child might have the disease should see a doctor, "especially if that cough just won't go away," she said.