In response to record numbers of reported pertussis cases, the Kentucky Department for Public Health is urging Kentuckians to make sure their families are protected against pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, by maintaining immunity through vaccination.
Cases reported statewide have increased from just 47 in 2007 to more than 250 in 2010 to date. “We know that pertussis, or whooping cough, is a highly contagious disease that can cause serious complications for some people," said William Hacker, M.D., commissioner of DPH. "In particular, children under one year of age are at risk for significant impacts from the illness. We want to remind Kentuckians to make sure their children receive vaccinations on the recommended schedule, and encourage those 11 to 64 to get a booster shot, especially if they are in contact with young children."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that parents of young children make sure their child has received vaccination against pertussis, typically given in a combination shot called DTaP, which includes vaccine for tetanus and diphtheria as well. The vaccine is usually given in four doses, with the first dose at eight weeks of age and the last at 15 to 18 months of age.
DPH also urges Kentuckians ages 11 to 64, especially those who are parents, grandparents and caregivers for children under age one, to be vaccinated with the Tdap booster shot, which will provide renewed protection against pertussis. People should contact their primary care provider or local health department if they wish to receive the Tdap booster shot.
Once thought by many to be a disease of the past, pertussis has made a come-back in recent years, due to improved diagnostic techniques and decreased immunity in adult and adolescent populations, who serve as reservoirs for the disease. Young children are especially vulnerable to the effects of the disease, which can cause difficulty breathing and even death. These children have often not had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated due to their age, which underlines the importance of stopping spread from adults to children. In healthy adults, illness may manifest simply as a new chronic cough.
"The best way to be protected against pertussis is through vaccination," said Dr. Hacker. "Both the vaccine for children and the booster shot for adolescents and adults are currently available in ample supply."
The disease is spread by microscopic droplets passed from infected persons to those without immunity in close contact with them. People at highest risk of contracting pertussis are other household members. Infected persons can be contagious for a short time before the cough develops and about two weeks afterward.
The early symptoms of pertussis include runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and a mild cough. After a week or two of these cold-like symptoms, however, a persistent cough develops which occurs in explosive bursts, sometimes ending with a high-pitched “whoop” and vomiting. Between fits, the infected person appears well. Coughing attacks can continue to occur for six to 10 weeks, even after treatment, and are more common at night. If symptoms appear, Kentuckians should seek the advice of their health care providers.