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Whooping Cough Cases on the Rise in Escambia County


Pertussis – commonly known as Whooping Cough – is on the rise in Escambia County. Health officials are reminding everyone to get vaccinated – or get a booster. 

Pertussis is a vaccine-preventable disease which is extremely contagious. The vaccine taken as a child doesn’t last a lifetime, so a booster is needed at some point to maintain a level of protection.

“We have seen a spike in the number of cases; it happens periodically when people are indoors,” says Leigh Willoughby, Immunizations Clinic Manager at Escambia-DOH. “We have so many celebrations this time of year. You gather in large groups, you’re inside and you’re talking and eating. All those viruses and germs can be spread more easily.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 339 cases of pertussis in Florida in 2016, about 1.7 per 100,000 population. The main symptom is a cough that can last from about two weeks to several months, and can be very serious.

“In the old days, when your grandma and my grandma were growing up, they used to call it ‘the cough that lasts 99 days,’” said Willoughby. “The cough is persistent.”

The initial vaccine is “DTaP.” It helps kids younger than age 7 develop immunity to three deadly diseases caused by bacteria: diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough. Tdap is a booster immunization given at age 11.

One of the main target groups, says Willoughby, is new moms.

“We like to get them vaccinated before they deliver,” says Willoughby. “The third trimester, that’s the most critical time for them to develop immunity, and pass that immunity on to the baby. So when the baby’s born it has that level of protection.”

Obviously, the main symptom of whooping cough is – the cough. But it’s a different type of cough that those usually heard or experienced. Pertussis is spread from person to person through the droplets produced by coughing. Some who are infected may be unable to catch their breath and begin to turn blue.

“The ‘whoop’ is so distinctive you can’t hardly miss it,” Willoughby says. “And it causes weight loss and loss of sleep. The cough can be so bad it can cause vomiting as well. It’s a long-term cough, and it’s hard enough to break ribs.”

Anyone with such symptoms is advised to see a doctor, and those who don’t have whooping cough are encouraged to be vaccinated. Everyone aged six weeks and older is eligible for the “T-DAP” vaccine. The Health Department’s Leigh Willoughby says the booster needs to be taken in a couple of instances for both kids and grownups.

“As children enter middle school, they’ll get their first booster then,” says Willoughby. “If you’re an adult, every ten years. If you’re having a new baby in the family, make sure all the aunts and uncles and grandparents have had their T-DAP well before the baby arrives.”

Additional information about pertussis/whooping cough – including vaccination guidelines – can be found at www.EscambiaHealth.com.