The Florida Department of Health in Broward County has confirmed that four new cases of the disease pertussis, better-known as whopping cough, have come to its attention over the past two weeks. Three of the newly infected patients are adolescents, and one is an infant. Health officials are stressing that parents have their children vaccinated against this highly contagious yet preventable disease.
"Pertussis is a very serious yet preventable disease," said Dr. Paula Thaqi, director of the Florida Department of Health in Broward County. "Babies and young children often get the disease from family members, so we urge the community to seek vaccination right away to decrease the risk of infection."
In 2010, ten babies in California died from a whooping cough outbreak.
"In addition, vaccinating children helps protect the health of the whole community, especially those people who cannot be vaccinated. This includes children who are too young, those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, and individuals with compromised immune systems."
"Whooping cough" is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the respiratory tract, most commonly spread through breathing in droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze.
Pertussis can infect people of any age, but children are especially susceptible; most dangerously, infants. Early symptoms can include a runny nose, mild cough lasting up to two weeks, sneezing, and a low-grade fever. Pertussis is often referred to as "whooping cough" due to the characteristic of a "whoop" sound during air intake in the weeks following a progressively more-severe cough. Those infected, especially children and the elderly, find it hard to eat, drink, or even breathe. This is what whooping cough sounds like.
Luckily, it's 2015, not 1915, and diseases such as pertussis can be easily prevented if parents take the necessary precautions with their infants. The five-dose series of pertussis vaccine to protect against whooping cough is best given to a child from 2 months old but may not fully take effect until the third dose is administered, when the child is around 6 months old. Parents who have waited on vaccinating their children and are worried their child has contracted whooping cough may ask their doctor for a white cell count test of their child -- as high counts are common in severely ill babies.
While nonvaccinated children are a factor in the spread of pertussis, doctors say adults who have not received the adult booster vaccine themselves are also a problem. It's estimated that only 6 percent of U.S. adults have gotten the Tdap booster that doctors recommend for adults between the ages of 19 and 64 to protect against whooping cough.
"I hope it makes [people] realize that diseases like pertussis haven't gone away," says Clark, MD, MPH, and the California Department of Public Health medical officer and epidemiology team leader says. "I think some people thought whooping cough was a disease of the past."