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From the column Health and Wellness

health-wellness-11-14-1In 2014 in the U.S., there has been a 24 percent increase in whooping cough (pertussis) compared to 2013. Up to 40,000 cases are reported each year with 10 to 20 deaths. The majority of these fatalities occur among infants younger than three months of age. Worldwide, there are an estimated 16 million cases of pertussis with about 195,000 deaths per year.

Whooping cough is found only in humans and is very contagious. Sufferers usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the bacteria. Symptoms generally develop within 7 to 10 days after exposure, but may show up after as many as 6 weeks. Those infected are most contagious during the first two weeks after the cough begins.

Most infants who get pertussis are infected by older siblings, parents, grandparents or caregivers who may not even know they have the illness. The disease usually starts with a mild cough or low-grade fever. In infants, the cough may be minimal or nonexistent. Instead, they experience a pause in the breathing pattern, known as apnea. Pertussis is most dangerous for babies. About half of the children younger than one year of age who get the disease require hospitalization. Among infants, whooping cough can cause serious problems, such as ear infections, pneumonia, slowed or stopped breathing, dehydration, seizures, and brain damage.

As the disease progresses, traditional symptoms of pertussis include paroxysms (fits) of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop” when inhaling, vomiting, and exhaustion. Sporadic coughing fits may last for up to 10 weeks or more. In China, pertussis is known as the “100 day cough.” In adults and teens, often there is no “whoop,” and the infection is generally milder.

Because in its early stages pertussis appears to be nothing more than a common cold, it often is not diagnosed until more severe symptoms appear. Antibiotics are usually used and may shorten the period someone is contagious; however, recovery from pertussis takes time. Gradually, the cough frequency decreases and becomes less severe. Coughing fits are known to return accompanied by other respiratory ailments for long periods following the initial infection.

Vaccines Can Help

The best way to prevent pertussis among infants, children, teens, and adults is to get vaccinated. In the United States, the recommended vaccine for infants and children is called DTaP. This is a combination immunization that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Unfortunately, protection for these diseases fades with time. Before 2005, the only booster available contained protection against tetanus and diphtheria (Td), and was recommended for teens and adults every 10 years. Today, there is a booster (Tdap) for preteens, teens and adults that provides protection for all three illnesses.

Since infants are in the greatest danger from whooping cough, the Centers for Disease Control recommends pregnant women be vaccinated with Tdap to build resistance in the developing child. The CDC also encourages those who are around infants to be up to date on their pertussis vaccination and that children receive the regular Dtap series of immunizations.

For more information, check the CDC website.

Kim Cantrell is a registered nurse with experience in faith community, obstetrics, ICU and medical-surgical. She has worked as an adjunct faculty member for Northwest Nazarene University and Idaho State University and is a member of the Nazarene Parish Nursing Board.

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