Whooping cough concern of youth rising

Aug. 30, 2013 @ 05:52 PM

North Carolina is seeing an outbreak of whooping cough that has health officials concerned.

Whooping cough, technically known as pertussis, is a highly contagious but preventable respiratory disease.

In mid-August, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 326 cases had been identified in the state this year, including 50 cases in infants.

“We have seen this trend across the United States over the last two or three years, partly because of a lot of people who were not immunized coming into the state,” said Dr. Roddie Drake, former director of the Granville-Vance District Health Department.

He added that people who were immunized much earlier could see their immunization wane over time.

Lisa Harrison, the current director of the two-county health department, said children need five doses of whooping cough vaccine called DTaP. They should receive one dose at each of the following ages: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months and between ages 4 and 6 years. Children also need a booster around age 11 or 12 because immunity wears off over time.

DTaP also protects against diphtheria and tetanus.

Harrison said most insurance plans and Medicaid cover the costs of the vaccine.

In addition to children, Drake said anyone providing care for an infant should be immunized or get a booster shot, including parents, grandparents and other caregivers. Many babies who get whooping cough are infected by parents, siblings or other caregivers who might not even know they have the disease.

Babies are especially susceptible to whooping cough, and it hits them hardest. About half of babies less than 1-year-old who get whooping cough need treatment in a hospital. Whooping cough can cause the child to have difficulty breathing and can lead to pneumonia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are three important things people can do to protect babies from whooping cough:

• Pregnant women should get vaccinated in their third trimester.

• All of the baby’s family members and caregivers should be vaccinated.

• The baby should get all five doses of the whooping cough vaccine.

“State law requires that kindergartners and all rising sixth-graders be up to date on pertussis vaccination before going to school,” said acting State Health Director Robin Cummings. “But as parents are getting their children ready to go back to school, it is also a good opportunity for parents to check on immunizations for the whole family. Any adults or older siblings, especially those who will be around newborns, should be vaccinated against pertussis.”

Whooping cough may start with symptoms similar to a cold: a cough, runny nose, fever and congestion. But unlike a cold, whooping cough can become violent coughing fits. The cough may be followed by a whoop as the child breathes in. If whooping cough is suspected, it is important to see a physician. The earlier treatment begins, the more effective it will be.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.