Whooping cough on the rise in the NorthlandThere has been an increase in the number of Northland school-aged children who are ill from bacteria that infects their lungs and causes a severe cough: this infection is known as pertussis, which most know by the name “whooping cough.”
By: Ann Busche, For the Budgeteer News
There has been an increase in the number of Northland school-aged children who are ill from bacteria that infects their lungs and causes a severe cough: this infection is known as pertussis, which most know by the name “whooping cough.”
Based on that, you might think the cough is distinctive, but it is actually named for the high-pitched whooping sound that one makes while inhaling after a coughing spell. I’ve never had whooping cough, so I can only imagine coughing so hard that when you finally get a chance to take a breath, the inhalation is so sharp that it makes a “whoop” sound – and that does not sound like fun, particularly when this severe cough can last four to six weeks or even longer.
The good news is that there is a vaccine for pertussis, so it is preventable. There are actually two vaccines, and your age will determine which vaccine you would receive; but both are given in combination with tetanus and diphtheria.
There’s a recommended schedule for children and adults, so even if you were vaccinated as a child but are now pregnant, a parent, or a grandparent, you should check with your doctor and ask about the vaccine.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), the first symptoms of pertussis are similar to those of a cold: sneezing, runny nose, possibly a low-grade fever, and a cough. However, after one or two weeks, the cough becomes severe and has the following characteristics:
The cough occurs in sudden, uncontrollable bursts, with one cough following another without a break for breath.
Many children will make the high-pitched whooping sound when breathing in after a coughing episode; whooping is less common in infants and adults.
During a coughing spell, a person may vomit.
The person’s face or lips may look blue from lack of oxygen.
The cough is often worse at night.
Between coughing spells the person seems well, but the illness is exhausting over time.
Coughing episodes become less frequent, but may continue for several weeks or months until the lungs heal.
Anyone can get pertussis, and teenagers and adults account for more than half of the reported cases. Doctors must report all cases of pertussis to MDH, which tracks statistics, so I’ll give you a few here:
As of the middle of May, there were 670 cases of pertussis reported in Minnesota; 21 of those cases where in St Louis County. In all of 2011, there were 661 cases in Minnesota and 31 in St Louis County. This means we’ve had more cases of pertussis in the first 5 ½ months of 2012 than we saw in all of 2011.
We can all take precautions to move those statistics downward. First of all, vaccinate your children according to the recommended schedule, and talk to your doctor about a vaccination for yourself, particularly if you are around or caring for a young child.
The standard preventive actions that apply to colds and flu also apply to preventing pertussis: Wash your hands frequently, stay at home if you are ill, sneeze and cough into your sleeve, and avoid contact with others who are coughing or ill.
Looking for more information? Find it at the MDH website: http://www. health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/pertussis/index.html
Ann Busche is the director of the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services department. Contact her at 726-2096 or email. Please note that Busche’s e-mail address has changed. It is now firstname.lastname@example.org.