The number of Pertussis (whooping cough) cases in Hamilton County continues to rise. To date, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department has confirmed 21 cases, which is a significant increase over previous years and reflects a similar trend across the U.S.
Sixteen of the 21 cases have been in children younger than six years old. Pertussis can be very serious in infants and young children and may cause life-threatening complications, especially in those who are not fully vaccinated. Complications can include pneumonia, seizures, apnea (stop breathing), inflammation of the brain, and death.
Persons with symptoms of Pertussis should contact their medical provider right away, regardless of vaccination status.
The first symptoms of Pertussis are similar to a cold: sneezing, runny nose, possibly a low-grade fever, and a cough. Although a cough can be present with other respiratory illnesses, coughs with the following characteristics may indicate Pertussis:
- A severe cough that occurs in sudden, uncontrollable bursts where one cough follows the next without a break for breath
- A high-pitched whooping sound when breathing in after a coughing episode; more common in children, less common in infants and adults
- Vomiting during or after a coughing spell
- The person’s face or lips may look blue from lack of oxygen
Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics may also be given to close contacts of persons with Pertussis to prevent the spread of disease. If you have Pertussis, stay home and avoid close contact with others, especially infants and young children.
While no vaccine is 100 percent effective, the best protection against Pertussis is vaccination. Protection from the childhood vaccine decreases over time; adolescents and adults need to be revaccinated against Pertussis, even if they were completely vaccinated as children.
There are no vaccines that can be given to infants younger than two months of age. Infants and children are not adequately vaccinated until they have received all their DTaP vaccine doses, so it is especially important for adolescents and adults to receive a dose of Tdap to protect the infants and children with whom they may be in contact. Pregnant women should be vaccinated with Tdap to protect their babies from Pertussis both before and after they are born.
Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that affects the lungs often causing an uncontrollable, violent cough lasting several weeks or even months. It is spread through direct contact with infected persons who are coughing and sneezing. Infants and younger children are often infected by older siblings or adults who may have a mild or unrecognized case of Pertussis.
To learn more about Pertussis visit the CDC page, http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Pertussis/. For health clinic information visit the website, www.health.hamiltontn.org.