Incidents of whooping cough (pertussis), a highly contagious respiratory disease, have spiked dramatically in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases are more than double what was reported this time last year. At the current pace, this outbreak could be the worst in 50 years.
The condition is characterized by violent coughing fits that make breathing difficult. The “whooping” sound is the result of a sufferer taking deep breaths after several violent coughs.
So far, I have not seen patients with whooping cough in Baltimore County, and CDC numbers confirm that Maryland has not been hit hard—yet.
So now is the time to take preventive measures by getting the pertussis vaccine booster known as Tdap (available at Doctors Express of Timonium) for adolescents and adults. The booster is important because the childhood vaccine (DTaP) wears off through time. Anyone can contract pertussis, but older children and adults can also be carriers without having full-blown symptoms—and pass the disease without realizing it.
This is especially dangerous for babies who have the highest risk of complications. A cough or sneeze from an unsuspecting caregiver could mean hospitalization or even death for an infant. This year, nine infants have died from pertussis in the United States.
In babies, the cough common to pertussis often is not present. Instead, infants may experience “apnea,” which is a pause in breathing, and choking spells. If you notice changes in your baby’s breathing patterns, see a doctor right away.
Early symptoms of whooping cough:
- runny nose
- low-grade fever
Symptoms after a week or two:
- severe coughing fits, sometimes with vomiting
- cough that is prolonged for several weeks
Whooping cough is spread person to person. You can catch it through close contact with a carrier—usually by breathing in the bacteria from a cough or sneeze. Symptoms typically develop about a week after being exposed, but it can
take as long as six weeks.
Pertussis is treated with antibiotics—the earlier the better to decrease the disease’s severity and control its spread.