Health District warns of Pertussis outbreak
Sunday, 08 July 2012 by Sonya Campbell
The Bell County Public Health District is alerting parents to be on the look out for signs of Pertussis, a highly contagious bacterial disease that can prove fatal among children below the age of 1, according to Lacey Sanders, Disease Surveillance/SNS Coordinator.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The coughing can make it hard to breathe. A deep "whooping" sound is often heard when the patient tries to breathe.
Children, 12 and younger, and adults over age 65, who have compromised immune systems, are more susceptible to the disease, Sanders said.
To date, the majority of local cases have involved children between 6 and 9 years old.
"All were vaccinated," she said.
Although people who are vaccinated can still get the disease, they generally have milder symptoms.
In addition to children, the health district also is seeing cases involving adults, Sanders said.
Overall, the number of confirmed and probable cases is on the rise.
Sanders said although it is common for diseases to see a lull in activity for a few years and then surge for a year, the number of Pertussis cases this year have climbed considerably.
Four years ago, there were 34 confirmed cases of Pertussis in Bell County "for the year," she said.
In comparison, there have been 106 confirmed cases since this past February, Sanders said, noting there have been 16 cases so far in June.
Several cases reportedly involved area schools and daycare facilities.
"We've had some Harker Heights schools involved," Sanders said.
A leading reason for the increase is based on parents' refusing to vaccinate their children, she said.
In addition to have their children vaccinated, the health district recommends adults who live and work around children to get vaccinated, as well.
"Parents should get vaccinated every five years," she said.
Parents who suspect their child may be exhibiting symptoms of Pertussis – such as a lingering cough – are encouraged to contact their physician and tell the doctor that exposure to Pertussis may have occurred. Report possible Pertussis infections to the childcare director, school nurse or the health department.
Babies under 1 year of age are most likely to have severe illness. When possible, babies should be kept away from people with a cough. Any baby with a coughing illness should be seen by their doctor as soon as possible.
It also is recommended that families with children less than 7 years of age who have not been completely vaccinated for Pertussis (with DTP or DTaP) – particularly babies younger than age 1 – talk to their child's doctor about the benefits of vaccination.
Also, parents whose children have not been vaccinated with Tdap are encouraged to talk with their doctor about the benefits of that vaccine.
• About Pertussis
According to information on the health district's website, Pertussis symptoms appear five to 21 days after infection. Usually only close contacts of students with Pertussis become infected.
Pertussis begins with cold-like symptoms (sneezing and a runny nose) and a cough that gradually becomes worse. After one to two weeks, the cough usually occurs in strong "coughing fits." In young children, this is often followed by a whooping noise as they try to catch their breath.
After coughing, a person may have difficulty catching their breath, vomit or become blue in the face from lack of air. Between coughing spells, the person may appear well.
For more information, contact the Bell County Public Health District at (254) 773-5881 or visit online at www.bellcountyhealth.org