Pertussis – a.k.a whooping cough – is on the rise in Escambia County, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Pertussis is an endemic – or common -- disease in the United States, with frequent outbreaks and peaks every 3-5 years. In 2012, 48,000 cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But many cases are not diagnosed and therefore not reported. DOH-Escambia reports four confirmed cases this year – including two in the same household.
“Children who were not vaccinated in that family got the disease from someone outside of the family, we think,” said County Health Director Dr. John Lanza.
Whooping cough is a vaccine-preventable illness, but can be highly contagious to non-vaccinated and under-vaccinated individuals. It’s especially dangerous to newborns; those with weakened immune systems, and older adults.
Pertussis is spread from person to person through the droplets from a cough. The main symptom is a cough that lasts for two weeks to several months. The cough can be very serious.
Besides families, Lanza says the disease can spread easily in other settings where there are close contacts among individuals – such as summer camps and group child care.
“It’s mostly an issue with the very young,” Lanza said. “They develop a very severe cough, vomiting, sleep loss. Death has occurred, although very rare, in newborns because they are too young to be protected and they pick it up from someone around them.”
Since pertussis is a bacterial disease – as opposed to viral illnesses such as measles and chicken pox – the fight against it can continue after the disease is contracted.
“Most of the viruses we have vaccines for are not really treatable as such,” Lanza said. “But this [pertussis] is a bacterial disease that we do have a vaccine for and is treatable with antibiotics that we already have.
“Of course, the best thing is not to get the disease because you’re fully vaccinated.”
Everyone aged six weeks and up is eligible for the pertussis vaccine. Many teens and adults who were vaccinated as small children may need a booster shot now.
Information about whooping cough, what should be done if infected, and vaccination options are available at www.escambiahealth.com.