Whooping cough still on the rise

Ken Harris

Less than three months after the beginning of the school year, reported cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, have increased from 12 to 21 as Tazewell County is proving not to be immune to an increase in the bacterial infection that has plagued several areas of the nation.

The Tazewell County Health Department originally stepped up its efforts to inform the public about getting vaccinations and staying vigilant about looking for symptoms of the infection in mid-August when the department received reports of four cases in a month. For the last three to five years, the department had only received one or two reported cases in the county per year.

Within a week and a half of that initial report, the number of cases jumped from four cases to 12 cases.

According to a statement released last week by the TCHD, while the increase has slowed down from that original rush, the number is up to 21 cases for the year, which is about 10 times more than normal.

To add to the concern, the majority of the reported cases involve children and adults who had been previously immunized, the statement said.

According to TCHD Director of Nursing Sarah Fenton, the department has stepped up its efforts to inform people about pertussis, its symptoms and how to get vaccinated because the vaccination is only good for so long before people need to obtain another one.

“We have sent notices, posters, flyers out to schools to post in schools and (to) send out with parents,” Fenton said. “It’s not only for children but also adults. Any parents (are welcome), particularly parents of small children.”

Fenton said that while pertussis is not typically dangerous for adults, those who spend any amount of time around children could pass it on. Pertussis has been known to be very severe for small children and even fatal for infants whose windpipes are too small to handle the effects of the infection.Children have even been known to be so racked with coughing they can turn blue and vomit, according to Fenton.

Fenton added the infection is passed on by “droplet spread,” meaning a person would have to be in close proximity to an infected, coughing person for 10 minutes or more.

That makes it unlikely to be spread by casually passing by an infected cougher.

Schedules for vaccination shots and detailed information regarding pertussis can be found on the TCHD website at www.tazewellhealth.org.