Triad Sees Increase in Whooping Cough Cases
National Health officials say pertussis, or whooping cough is on pace to be the worst in 50 years, with nearly 18,000 cases recorded so far this year. North Carolina is also seeing an increase.
In Forsyth County alone, more than 70 confirmed or probable cases of whooping cough have been reported since January. Most of those were children. Alamance County health officials also reported an outbreak recently. More than 100 cases have been reported there since last December.
“One of the reasons we are seeing a steady increase in whooping cough cases is because immunity in our vaccines goes down some as we get older,” says Dr. Christopher Ohl, infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Dr. Ohl says another reason for the increase is, “We have better testing now for whooping cough or pertussis. The last few years, there have been some rapid, easily performed tests that can be done in physician offices and you can get the answer back in 24 hours and because we are doing more testing, we are seeing more cases. The other reason is that there is more awareness about whooping cough and pertussis.”
The bacteria that causes pertussis is spread while coughing or sneezing around others. Symptoms of the disease include coughing fits followed by vomiting, exhaustion, apnea, or temporary stops in breathing and fever.
Health officials are reminding people to get vaccinated. Young children and the elderly are especially susceptible to whooping cough. All kids must have their Tdap booster within the first 30 days of entering the sixth grade.
Dr. Ohl says there are some new recommendations for the whooping cough vaccine.
“All adults should have at least one dose of whooping cough vaccine. The other new recommendation is that all pregnant women should get a whooping cough vaccine with each pregnancy. The reason why we would like to get adults, particularly pregnant women vaccinated is that if we can provide a cocoon of vaccinated people around the very young babies than we can prevent the babies from getting pertussis,” says Ohl.
The recent outbreaks of whooping cough in the state have prompted North Carolina health officials to make the vaccines against the disease available for free to anyone age 7 and older, regardless of whether they have health insurance.