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Whooping cough outbreak

Monday, December 21, 2015

Northern Kentucky is experiencing an increase in reports of whooping cough, also known as pertussis. A majority of the recent cases are being seen in school-aged youth, but whooping cough is concerning because of the risk of severe illness in infants under age 1.

Thirty one cases of whooping cough have been reported in Northern Kentucky since the start of November, with 13 cases occurring in the last week of November alone. Most of these cases have been in school age youth age 10 and over, although several cases have been reported in parents of school-aged children as well. Cases have been reported in Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton Counties.

In comparison, the region had seven cases of whooping cough in all of November and December of 2014.

“This disease is one that spreads very easily through coughing and sneezing, so our concern is that families and friends will gather over the holidays and potentially infect one another,” said Lynne M. Saddler, MD, MPH, District Director of Health. “Plus, the early symptoms of whooping cough are similar to the common cold and whooping cough is not often suspected or diagnosed until more severe symptoms appear.”

Vaccination is the best way to prevent the spread of whooping cough. Parents of young children should make sure that their child has been vaccinated with DTaP, which includes vaccine for tetanus and diphtheria as well. The vaccine is usually given in five doses, administered at two months, four months, six months, 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years of age. A booster dose of Tdap is recommended for preteens at ages 11or 12.

Vaccine protection fades over time; therefore adults and parents of teens age 10 years of age or older should ensure that Tdap vaccinations are up to date.

“Vaccination with a Tdap is especially critical for school teachers, pregnant women, parents, grandparents and caregivers for infants,” said Saddler.

Adults age 19 and older can receive a free Tdap vaccine by appointment at the Health Department’s four county health centers. Children age 18 and under can get the Tdap or DTap vaccine for free through the Vaccines For Children program, provided that they have a Medical card, KCHIP, no health insurance or health insurance that doesn’t cover the vaccine. Most doctors’ offices and many pharmacies offer the vaccine as well. Families of infants born at St. Elizabeth also can get the vaccine after delivery through the hospital.

“Although vaccination protects most people against whooping cough, no vaccination is 100 percent effective,” said Saddler. “Some people who are fully vaccinated may still become infected and have a mild case of the illness. In those instances, it is still important for people who are ill to stay home and avoid contact with others.”

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 for evaluation and avoid contact with others, especially infants, young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. If you live with someone who has been diagnosed with whooping cough, or have had prolonged close contact, contact your health care provider as well. 

The Health Department is working with local doctors’ offices, schools 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.

For more information on whooping cough, please visit http://www.nkyhealth.org.

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Media representatives should contact Emily Gresham Wherle at 859.344.5470 or Emily.Gresham-Wherle@nkyhealth.org, about any request or information before calling any other Health Department employee. Your calls and requests will be handled expediently with your deadlines in mind. Thank you for your interest and support in educating the community about public health issues.

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