Whooping cough cases on rise in NC

June 20, 2012 1:15:29 PM PDT
A recent rise in the number of reported whooping cough cases in North Carolina has health officials warning residents to get vaccinated.

The illness - officially known as Pertussis - is a highly contagious, but preventable, respiratory disease.

"It starts out with sniffles and a mild illness and then it turns into a very persistent cough, and then the classic symptoms are that people start coughing so much they can't catch their breath, and then they have to take a big "whoop" whooping breath," explained Dr Zack Moore, a medical epidemiologist with the N.C. Division of Public Health.

Easy spread from person to person through coughs and sneezed, Pertussis can affect both children and adults.

"Particularly for infants less than 12 months, it can be deadly and about 1 in 100 who are infected will die. About half will have to be in the hospital and will have other complications," said Moore.

But it also can be serious and prolonged in adults. Doctors say it's very important for children to get their series of Pertussis vaccines before kindergarten. That's normally a series of shots. And then, kids should get another booster called the Tdap before 6th grade, and they're not the only ones.

"We also encourage adolescents and adults to get that Tdap because adults don't have any immunity to Pertussis. Because even if they that got that series, the immunity doesn't last as long as we'd like," said Moore.

And it's the adult cases that could be accounting for the spike in numbers. Between December and the beginning of June, there have been at least 179 cases of whooping cough in 23 counties across the state. That's compared to 126 cases in all of 2011.

Children, the elderly, women who are pregnant, people who are around infants, and those with a chronic respiratory illness, are most at risk.

Because of the most recent outbreak, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is offering the vaccine to anyone 7 or older, including adults, regardless of whether or not they have insurance.

For more information, contact your family physician or your local health department.

Click here for more from DHHS.

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