Pertussis, or whooping cough, is on the rise in Kentucky. 87 cases have been reported between August and December of last year.
The disease is caused by a bacteria, Bordetella pertussis, and it is highly contagious. It is only found in humans and it spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing, or being near an infected person for prolonged periods of time. Infected people are considered infectious for 14 days after coughing begins.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, symptoms develop 5 to 10 days after exposure, but it may take as long as 3 weeks before symptoms begin to appear. At the on-set of disease, symptoms include a runny nose, mild fever, a mild cough, and in infants, apnea or a pause in breathing. Symptoms at this stage of illness often resemble a common cold and people do not seek medical attention. After 1-2 weeks of these symptoms, the tell-tale signs of the disease appear. Symptoms include fits of many, rapid coughs that are followed with a “whoop” sound, vomiting, and exhaustion after coughing. The whooping sound is caused by the extreme, violent coughing that results in all the air from the lungs being exhaled and the patient is forced to inhale. Coughing fits can last up to 10 weeks.
Treatment is antibiotics and the earlier the disease is diagnosed, the better. Treatment can also minimize the ability of the patient to transmit the disease. A vaccine, DTaP, is available and is a common vaccine of children. There are boosters available for all ages and it is called Tdap. Vaccines are not 100% effective and people should still be cautious if someone you know is infected. People that have had the vaccine and get infected, the disease is less severe and does not last as long.
If you believe you have been exposed to whooping cough, contact your primary care physician.