What's the deal with whooping cough?

The New York Times recently published an article saying that whooping cough cases have doubled in Indiana in the last year. We asked Victoria Watters, MD, PPG — Family Medicine to explain the risks associated with the disease and how we can prevent it from spreading. 

Why are the numbers for whooping cough escalating so drastically?

It’s happening for various reasons. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is highly contagious, and it’s also cyclic, with epidemics occurring every two to five years. We could be in one of those epidemics. The numbers escalating could also be due to increased awareness and better diagnostic testing.

What can we do to stop the spread of the disease?

Most importantly, get vaccinated. It’s crucial to vaccinate young children on time because they’re most susceptible to whooping cough, and are most likely to experience illness and even death as a result. Before the vaccine was available, whooping cough was a devastating illness with a relatively high infant mortality rate. Adults and adolescents need to be vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of the disease and keep infants safe. Adults often have much milder symptoms, but can serve as a reservoir for the infection.

What are the signs of whooping cough?

Symptoms include: sudden, violent fits of coughing, a “whoop” sound when breathing in, and vomiting after a coughing fit. Babies and young children may develop respiratory distress or failure. In adults and adolescents, the symptoms can be much more mild, ranging from cold like symptoms to more severe prolonged cough. The cough associated with pertussis may last up to 10 weeks.

Why is it so dangerous?

It’s very contagious and easily spread. Just one person can infect up to 12-15 people. Additionally, whooping cough can lead to respiratory failure, especially in children and adults with other respiratory illness.

What should a parent do if they suspect their child may have whooping cough?

If you suspect your child has the whooping cough, please see your doctor. Your doctor will likely do a test for pertussis and start him or her on an antibiotic. Those in the home that have been exposed should also be treated to help prevent the spread of the disease to others.

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