EDGEWOOD, Ky. -- "Record levels" of whooping cough (pertussis) have afflicted Northern Kentucky residents in the past five months, surpassing previous outbreaks of 140 cases in 2010 and 109 cases in 2012.
The Northern Kentucky Health Department said 184 cases have been reported between Nov. 1, 2015, and March 16 in Boone, Campbell, Grant and Kenton counties, mostly among school-age children from 7 to 17 years old.
More than 45 schools and child care centers have been affected, and school staff and parents are at increased risk.
“Early symptoms of whooping cough mimic the common cold, so it is often not suspected or detected until more severe symptoms appear,” said Dr. Lynne M. Saddler, district director of health. “Unfortunately, this means that people with whooping cough spread the disease to others before realizing that they are infected.”
Compared to Northern Kentucky, the Cincinnati Health Department reports only seven whooping cough cases so far this year.
Identifying whooping cough
Infants may have no apparent cough. Coughing spells, when they occur, may be so severe the infant’s face turns red or purple. However, whooping cough is most concerning for infants under age 1, with a higher instance of severe illness and even death.
In children, symptoms typically start with a cough and runny nose that may last up to two weeks. The cough usually gets worse and changes into rapid spells of hacking cough that have a tell-tale “whooping” sound. These may be associated with vomiting and breathlessness. Children who are vaccinated may have milder symptoms.
Adults with whooping cough may just have a cough that lasts for several weeks.
Individuals, especially teenagers, who have a cough lasting more than two weeks and/or one that progressively gets worse are advised to contact their health care provider for evaluation and avoid contact with others, especially infants, young children, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system.
If you live with someone who has been diagnosed with whooping cough, or have had prolonged close contact, contact your health care provider as well.
Treating whooping cough
To help stop the spread of whooping cough, the Health Department recommends three steps: vaccination, avoidance of vulnerable groups when you have cold symptoms and, if diagnosed with whooping cough, staying home for five days after antibiotic treatment has started.
Although whooping cough can occur in vaccinated persons, symptoms are usually less severe and resolve more quickly than in unvaccinated persons.
Young children typically receive five doses of DTaP, which includes vaccine for tetanus and diphtheria as well, administered at two months, four months, six months, 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years of age. A booster dose of Tdap is recommended for preteens at ages 11 or 12.
Because vaccine protection fades over time, adults and parents of teens age 10 years of age or older should ensure that Tdap vaccinations are up to date. Adults age 19 and older can receive a free Tdap vaccine by appointment at the Northern Kentucky Health Department’s four county health centers. Children age 18 and under can get the Tdap or DTaP vaccine for free through the Vaccines For Children program, provided that they have a Medical card, KCHIP, no health insurance or health insurance that doesn’t cover the vaccine.
Most doctors’ offices and many pharmacies offer the vaccine as well. The Northern Kentucky Health Department is also working with local schools affected by the outbreak to provide immunization clinics for students, staff and family members.
For more information on whooping cough, please visit the Northern Kentucky Health Department's pertussis page.