Whooping Cough on the Rise in Kentucky

By Dr. Diana Hayslip

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is an epidemic disease in the United States, with frequent outbreaks occurring every 3 to 5 years.

Because the number of cases in the U.S. is higher than normal in 2012 – Kentucky included – people should be wary of the increased threat and take necessary precautions.

Whooping cough is a respiratory tract infection that usually starts as a cold then turns into a bad cough with runny nose and mild fever.

The cough comes in bursts – up to several minutes at a time.  After coughing, sufferers might make a whooping sound as they catch their breath.

After 1-2 weeks, severe attacks of coughing usually occur and continue for 1 to 6 more weeks.

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection – and highly contagious.

When a person coughs or sneezes, bacteria from the infected person is released into the air.

A person gets whooping cough by breathing the bacteria in or by touching a surface that is coated with the bacteria.

Infants and toddlers are especially vulnerable to infection.

Babies younger than a year old who have whooping cough may need to be hospitalized. The disease can lead to pneumonia and other problems.

Because whooping cough is so contagious, anyone who is diagnosed should avoid work or school until a medical provider says it is safe to return.

Whooping cough is normally treated with antibiotics, which help the cough go away quicker.

Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to other members of your household to prevent the spread of the disease.

It is important to get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids (including broths), use a humidifier, and take warm baths or showers to help clear the lungs and make breathing easier.

An infected person should also avoid smoking or being around fireplaces.

Although vaccinations against whooping cough are routine in childhood, children aren’t adequately protected until they have had at least three shots.

Because the vaccination wears off after 5-10 years, it is important to stay up-to-date on children’s immunizations. It is equally important for adults to get the pertussis vaccine.

Before the vaccine was widely available in the 1940s, about 200,000 children were infected with whooping cough annually.

Today, there are approximately 10,000-25,000 cases reported annually.

Additionally, the death rate from being infected by pertussis is now only about 10-20 deaths per year.