Northern Kentucky is now among the regions of the country experiencing higher than usual numbers of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, according to the Northern Kentucky Health Department.
Since January, 39 cases of whooping cough have been reported in Northern Kentucky. In comparison, the region averaged 25 cases of whooping cough per year between 2003 and 2009. During an outbreak in 2010, 127 cases were reported. Of the cases reported thus far in 2012, seven were in children 1 year of age or under, who are at higher risk for serious complications from the disease.
"Pertussis can cause serious illness, hospitalization and death — especially in infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated," said Lynne M. Saddler, MD, MPH, District Director of Health. "Because vaccine protection fades over time, anyone who plans to be around infants should be vaccinated with the Tdap booster shot, which will provide renewed protection against whooping cough. Parents, grandparents and caregivers are strongly encouraged to get their booster shot."
Parents of young children should also make sure that their child has been vaccinated for whooping cough, typically given in a combination shot called DTaP, which includes vaccine for tetanus and diphtheria as well. The vaccine is usually given in five doses, with the doses at two months, four months, six months, 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years of age.
"We are also seeing a significant number of cases in children age 9 to 11," said Saddler. "If you have a child in this age group, make sure that he/she is up-to-date on vaccinations, particularly if your pre-teen spends time around infants. In fact, vaccination may be required for school entry, and can be given during back-to-school medical appointments."
The Tdap vaccine is available for $4 by appointment at the Health Department's four county health centers. For locations and phone numbers, click here. Most doctors' offices and many pharmacies offer the vaccine as well. Families of infants born at St. Elizabeth can also get the vaccine after delivery through the hospital.
The early symptoms of whooping cough include: runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and a mild cough. After a week or two, a persistent cough develops which occurs in explosive bursts, sometimes ending with a high-pitched whoop and vomiting. Individuals who have a cough lasting more than two weeks and/or one that progressively gets worse are advised to contact their health care provider. Anyone with a cough should avoid contact with young children.
The Health Department is working with local doctors' offices and child care centers to provide information about whooping cough transmission and prevention. Doctors have been reminded to consider whooping cough as a possible diagnosis. Child care centers have been asked to consider having all staff vaccinated and encourage their parents and students to seek vaccination as well.