Whooping Cough Makes a Comeback - Omaha, Nebraska - CHI Health

Whooping Cough Makes a Comeback

Article Date: Aug 9, 2010

(OMAHA, Neb.) – Nebraska is one of several states seeing an increase in cases of pertussis, or whooping cough. It’s the start of what Alegent Health Infectious Disease Specialist Rick Starlin, M.D. says could be the upswing in a highly contagious, highly dangerous outbreak.

“Pertussis outbreaks come in cycles of three to five years and the last year we saw a large number of cases in the United States was 2005, so our area could be at risk,” said Dr. Starlin. “We recommend that any adult that may have young children or contact with young children make sure that they get immunized. Whooping cough is easily transmitted and can severely affect infants who are premature or those who are not fully immunized yet.”

The timing is right. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), peak season for whooping cough, or pertussis, is late summer and early fall. Lancaster County Nebraska is reporting 18 cases of whooping cough in two months.

“Most of us have had the initial series of vaccinations, unless there was a health reason to not get it done or parental choice,” said Dr. Starlin. “The majority of Americans have had the vaccination, but the immunity wanes, so there is need for at least a one-time booster shot from adolescents to adulthood.”

New mothers at Alegent Health can find a new line of defense against whooping cough right in their post partum room. When Megan Schumacher, who just gave birth to her first daughter, was offered a pertussis vaccine in the hospital, she took it. "I thought I should have it because if it’s helpful for her then I should do it," Schumacher said. It is something Dr. Starlin and Kirti Gupta, M.D., an Alegent Health Clinic pediatrician, say is important when you consider that 80 percent or more of the whooping cough cases in infants can be traced back to a family member.

“It’s called whooping cough because it’s a coughing spell that won’t go away, but you can limit the spread by getting vaccinated,” explained Dr. Gupta. “The vaccination is twofold, it protects the individual getting the shot and then they protect others by not getting whooping cough.”

The CDC reports that nearly 66 percent of infants who get whooping cough will be hospitalized, one in 10 will develop pneumonia and one in 250 will also get encephalopathy - a disease that affects their brain. Older children and adults can also get whooping cough, although it is rarely life-threatening for them. That’s because it can be effectively treated with antibiotics.

The basics on whooping cough
Pertussis starts a lot like a cold, but the cough doesn’t go away easily and can become serious. The bacteria spreads through the cough, which in adults, sounds like barking. Outbreaks cycle through the population every three to five years. Despite the success of the whooping cough vaccines, it is still relatively common in the United States. It’s not unusual for outbreaks to start in places like daycare centers and schools.

Vaccinations are the best defense
Vaccinations begin at age two months and continue regularly until a child reaches 15 to 18 months of age. Doctors recommend that women receive a booster vaccine before becoming pregnant. If that’s not possible, they can get it after delivery at all Alegent Health hospitals. People over age 65 should talk to their doctor to see if a booster shot would be a good idea based on their overall health and contact with young children.

Next Steps

  • Make sure you and your family members are up-to-date with whooping cough vaccinations
  • If you have symptoms of whooping cough, contact your primary care physician
  • Similar to the flu, cover your cough and wash your hands often
  • Keep infants away from anyone with cough or cold symptoms


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