Rise in whooping cough is nothing to sneeze at

The Dearborn County Health Department has joined forces with the state health department to drive home the message that whooping cough is nothing to sneeze at. It can kill your baby!

The contagious disease, called pertussis, especially targets infants who cannot receive the initial vaccination until 2 months old, and then must received it again at four months, six months, 15 through 18 months, and 4- through 6-years-old, to protect your child, said Dearborn County Health Department Educator Kelley McDaniel, a registered nurse.

The disease is cyclic, and this year 136 cases had been confirmed through July compared to 66 all last year. Babies can experience poor feeding, weight loss, slowed or stopped breathing, pneumonia, seizures or death.

“It affects everyone in the family,” said McDaniel, explaining that pertussis will make a person without a vaccination extremely ill. Many elderly people who do not have the vaccination because it was not available when they were children assume it is too late. But it is not!

Anyone, at any age, can be vaccinated against whooping cough. Elderly folks who have not had the vaccination should get the adult shot at least two weeks before a child is born or be kept away from the baby until it receives all its shots through 18 months, said McDaniel.

“We stress cocooning because almost all cases of whooping cough come from a sibling or another family member. We only want people who have been vaccinated around the baby,” she said.

 Even people who have been vaccinated can carry the bacteria without getting sick but can pass it on to a baby who becomes ill, added McDaniel.

 Whooping cough, which has been on the rise in the US since the 1980s, is prominently known for the “whoop” sound following convulsive coughing, but children have milder flu-like symptoms before the severe stage takes effect, said McDaniel.

“We have billboards up and fliers out because it is impotent to educate people about this disease. It’s a respiratory disease that can be fatal for infants,” she said.

Awareness about vaccinations for infants sometimes falls through the cracks because, unlike vaccinations required to start kindergarten, there has not been an adequate campaign to inform families, particularly low-income ones, she said.

But now the push is on, at least in Dearborn County. McDaniel wants you to know that half the children who contract whooping cough are hospitalized. She also wants you to know that pregnant women, even those who had the vaccinations as children, need another shot, to provide additional protection to their unborn babies.

She wants you to know that vaccines are offered at the doctor’s office, pharmacy, or county health department, and that most insurance covers at least part of the cost. The adult shot costs about $35 out of pocket.

“We also have a hardship program. If they tell us they don’t have insurance or Medicaid, we provide them free,” said McDaniel.

Meanwhile, the Indiana State Department of Health is urging Hoosiers to take precautions against whooping cough.

“Pertussis is very contagious and can cause serious complications, especially in young infants,” said State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams. “I urge Hoosiers to protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated and following good cough etiquette and hand-washing practices.”

That hand-washing business is extremely important, said McDaniel, stressing that the simple good habit considerably reduces the possibility of spreading the disease.

Pertussis is a bacterial illness transmitted by nose or throat droplets. Symptoms typically begin seven to 10 days following exposure, and may include prolonged coughing, bursts of coughing, difficulty catching one’s breath, or vomiting following coughing, warns Adams.

Anyone with a prolonged cough is encouraged to see a healthcare provider to determine whether testing or treatment for pertussis is appropriate.

For more information, even on how to properly wash your hands, visit www.cdc.gov/whoopingcough.