Whooping cough making a comeback

Jessica Murray
Jessica Murray

In the past few weeks, there have been several confirmed cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, in Fayette County schools and other surrounding counties. Many parents are concerned about exposure and have questions about preventing pertussis infection or recognizing symptoms.

Pertussis is a respiratory infection caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. It is easily spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing. Symptoms can begin about five to 21 days after contact with an infected person.

Infection with pertussis can be particularly dangerous to infants under 1 year old, older adults and anyone who has a weakened immune system. Infants have the highest rate of infection, and also suffer the most complications.

Early symptoms of pertussis can be similar to the common cold and include runny nose, low-grade fever and mild cough. Later symptoms of pertussis can include the following:

▪ Periods of intense coughing, sometimes (but not always) followed by a loud “whoop,”

▪ Vomiting after periods of coughing,

▪ Feeling very tired after periods of coughing.

Vaccines for pertussis were first introduced in the United States in the 1940s, which drastically decreased the number of infections. However, the number of infections began to increase again in the 1980s and are still rising.

There are two vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect against pertussis:

1. DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine) is used in infants and younger children. Five doses are recommended at: 2, 4, and 6 month, 15-18 months and 4-6 years

2. Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine) is used in older children and adults. This should be given as a booster dose at 11-12 years old (usually prior to 6th grade entry).

The best way to prevent pertussis infection is to make sure your child’s vaccines are up to date. If you are unsure, contact their health-care provider to catch up missed doses. Pregnant women and unvaccinated adults should also receive a dose.

Additionally, if you believe that your child has been exposed to pertussis, please see your health-care provider. If your child is started on medication for pertussis symptoms, the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department recommends that they stay out of school and other activities for at least six days after starting the treatment.

Please see the CDC’s website at http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis for further information.

Jessica Murray, a family nurse practitioner at Baby Health Service in Lexington, is also a clinical instructor in undergraduate public health nursing at the University of Kentucky.