Pertussis: High number of cases cause for concern

Pertussis. It sounds foreign, doesn’t it?

But Pertussis, also known as “whooping cough,” is a highly contagious respiratory disease that can strike infants to the elderly. And there’s currently an epidemic underway in Minnesota.

There were 1,758 Pertussis cases reported in Minnesota as of June 30, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. More than 400 cases have been reported so far in July alone. Nationally, the number of cases could reach its highest level in 50 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota saw nine Pertussis cases just this past week and 41 in the month of July, said Patsy Stinchfield, director of Infectious Disease/Immunology and Infection Prevention. The hospital typically sees 32 cases over the course of a year.

The numbers are concerning.

“Everyone should be on their toes thinking about and testing for Pertussis for people with a cough lasting more than a week,” Stinchfield said.

Pertussis can be a serious illness in infants, children and adults and can be life-threatening, especially for infants. A person with Pertussis develops a severe cough that usually lasts four to six weeks or longer, even up to 100 days. It can make it hard to breathe or cause vomiting. The “whooping” sound isn’t always present.

It’s unknown what has caused the spike in cases. While Pertussis occurs in all age groups, the average age is 14 and outbreaks have occurred in middle schools, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

“Teens are like a perfect storm of infection,” Stinchfield said.

They may not have gotten their Tdap booster yet, and they tend to continue socializing when they’re sick, spreading their infection to others in their social groups and communities, she explained.

The good news is that Pertussis is preventable. Stinchfield offered the following tips to protect your children and yourself:

  • Children need their primary series of DTaP vaccinations
  • All adolescents and adults need a Tdap booster—one dose for anyone 10 and older
  • Women who are 20 or more weeks pregnant, adults who have significant contact with children and elderly need to make sure they get a Tdap booster
  • Thoroughly wash hands and avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth
  • Those who have Pertussis should not leave home until they have completed their entire antibiotic treatment which is generally five days.  If no antibiotics are taken, Pertussis can spread during the first 21 days of the cough.  Avoiding social contact (stay home from work, school and daycare) until five days of antibiotics are completed is essential
  • It’s called “The 100 day Cough” for a reason—the antibiotics reduce spread to others, but it does not repair damage in the airways which can cause the person to have a harsh cough for many weeks and even a few months
  • Babies too young to be immunized are the ones most likely to die from Pertussis and usually get it from their mom, dad or grandparent.  Vaccinating anyone in contact with a newborn helps prevent needless tragedy

Patsy Stinchfield talks more about Pertussis by video. To watch the series, click here.

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