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Whooping cough is on the rise in Kentucky

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Three cases in Shelby County

By Ashley Sutter

 The coos and giggles of an infant bring a wealth of joyous emotions for a new mom.   But when strange sounds are emitted from the lungs of that little one, those emotions can turn to fear and concern.

And right now, especially, that concern has justification as the Louisville Department of Public Health and Wellness recently reported a dramatic spike in pertussis cases in infants. At least six cases where reported last month alone.

According the to North Central District Health Department there have been 301 confirmed cases throughout Kentucky since the beginning of the year, with the highest numbers in Jefferson County. 

In the North Central Region, which includes Shelby, Henry, Spencer and Trimble counties, there have been seven or eight cases so far this year, three of those are attributed to Shelby County.

Also known as whooping cough, the highly contagious respiratory disease is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. After cough fits, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths, resulting in a whooping sound.

While the disease can affect people of all ages, it can be very serious, even deadly, for babies less than a year old.

The CDC urges the best way to protect against pertussis is by getting vaccinated.

“It is vitally important for infants to get their immunizations against whooping cough on schedule,” Public Health and Wellness director Dr. Sarah Moyer said in a news release. “In children this age, the disease can be very serious and even deadly.”

Holly Husband, public relations director with Jewish Hospital Shelbyville, said their infection preventionist has not seen any local cases of whooping cough.

However, outbreaks of the disease are not uncommon. The number of cases each year has been on the rise since the 1980s.  The CDC notes there were 48,277 cases of pertussis across the nation in 2012.

It is estimated that there are 24.1 million cases of whopping cough and about 160,700 deaths each year around the world.

The disease can be serious, especially in infants, as approximately half of babies less than 1 year old who get pertussis need treatment in the hospital.

Katherine Garcia, an advanced practice registered nurse with Shelby Pediatrics, said the symptoms to look for with pertussis would be a runny nose, low grade fever and a mild cough that progresses into coughing fits, followed by a high-pitched whoop sound.

Rachel Girsch, regional epidemiologist, said if your child has a cough that lasts for more than seven days they should be kept home from school and activities and checked by a doctor.

There are antibiotics available to treat pertussis, but it is preventable.

“The best way to prevent pertussis is to stay up to date on your child’s vaccinations,” Garcia said.

Those vaccinations include a DTaP for babies and children and a Tdap for preteens, teens and adults.

Vaccination of pregnant women with Tdap is especially important to help protect babies.

Parents of infants and all people who live with an infant or who provide care to an infant should also be immunized against whooping cough.

Girsch, said most people get the pertussis vaccine before their seventh birthday, but immunity decreases over time. “The adolescent and adult vaccine booster for pertussis, Tdap, has only been available since 2005, so many people have not received this booster shot,” she said.

She added that the following people should receive Tdap vaccine:

§  Children at age 10 years through 12 years

§  Pregnant women after 20 weeks. Pregnant women should receive a Tdap booster dose with each pregnancy.

§  Any adult or older child who has not yet received a Tdap booster.