The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

August 23, 2012

Number of whooping cough cases on the rise

JOPLIN, Mo. — Usually, babies get all the attention when it comes to pertussis. The disease commonly known as whooping cough can be deadly to infants. Treatment of the disease involves hospitalization about half the time, said Dr. Beth Woolery, a pediatrician with Freeman Children’s Clinic.

“Pertussis hits all ages,” Woolery said. “We think about it with infants, because they are the ones who can end up in the hospital. With others, it’s not as severe.”

Even though the symptoms aren’t as strong for kids and adults when compared to infants, people of all ages should worry about the disease -- especially since the state of Missouri is reporting an increased number of infections.

A health advisory from the Department of Health and Senior Services reported that cases of the disease have increased by 184 percent over the median number of such cases in the last five years. According to the report, 443 cases have been reported in a 30-week period.

That means adults need to pay attention for the disease in their kids, and in themselves, Woolery said.

The disease’s painful cough is accompanied by an extended period of contagion, Woolery said. Its first phase, which lasts up to two weeks, resembles the common cold.

“It starts off as a cold, and people think, ‘Hey, I’m just fine,’” Woolery said. “But that’s actually the most infectious time for pertussis.”

The disease has also been called “the cough of a hundred days,” because of how it lingers. It is best caught in the first of its three phases, Woolery said.

Nationwide problem

The increased number of cases is a nationwide trend, leading to speculation that there will be a rush for pertussis vaccines. With 18,000 cases in 2012 so far, the final number is expected to be the highest since 1959.

If there is a rush, doctors should be able to handle the demand. The supply of vaccines is fine, according to a spokesman with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“The CDC is not aware of any supply issues as far as vaccines that protect against pertussis,” said Thomas Skinner in an email to The Los Angeles Times.

Most parents get vaccinations for their children. But those vaccinations wear off, Woolery said.

“Because the vaccine wears off, parents might not know until they get a letter from schools about it,” Woolery said. “We start giving the Tdap vaccination at 11. Parents don’t have to wait until the schools tell them.”

If anything, the increase in whooping cough should warn parents about all illnesses that can be prevented with vaccines, Woolery said.

That also means adults should get vaccines if they are going to be around children, and especially infants. Pregnant mothers should have conversations about vaccines with their doctors, Woolery said.

“These diseases are real, and they harm kids,” Woolery said. “We never like putting a kid in a hospital, and we want to do our best to prevent that.”

McClatchy News Service contributed to this report.

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