With the number of whooping cough cases growing statewide and in nearby Madison County, area health officials are ramping up efforts to make sure the potentially fatal condition doesn't spread.
State health workers have predicted a big year for whooping cough, clinically known as pertussis, and already cases have exceeded the 168 reported in 2011. Boyle County Health Department director Brent Blevins said none of the nearly 180 cases confirmed so far in Kentucky have been in Boyle, but said there is an increased chance it will pop up in the community, considering the instances already in and around Richmond.
According to the Madison County Health Department website there were 24 confirmed cases as of this week and two more were probable. Estill County in eastern Kentucky and several northern Kentucky counties have been working multiple active cases in the last several weeks.
Lincoln County Health Department officials say they have one confirmed case of an elderly male with pertussis. Nursing supervisor Jackie McMurtry said the man contracted pertussis in another county and there have been no other cases identified in Lincoln.
Typically, once a case is confirmed, health departments in the county where the infected person resides are notified. They are charged with investigating how the disease was contracted, which includes looking into anyone who lives with someone who has pertussis or has been in close contact for a couple of hours, McMurtry said.
Whooping cough gets its name from the tell-tale sound someone makes when they have been infected. Someone with a full blown case of pertussis can have uncontrollable coughing fits, followed by a high-pitched “whoop.”
The rapid coughing may cause vomiting and could be so violent it doesn't allow people to catch their breath. Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people often appear healthy in between fits, despite exhaustion caused by the coughing.
According to the CDC, the disease usually is spread by coughing or sneezing in close proximity to other people. Symptoms usually come on in 7 to 10 days after exposure and those who have been infected are usually most contagious after a couple of weeks.
The CDC has had reports of more than 17,000 cases and nine pertussis-related deaths in 2012, with most of the deaths being infants under 3 months old. Blevins points out that infants are the most likely to contract the disease, followed by children ages 7-10.
Health professionals say infants are particularly susceptible because they are too young to receive a vaccine. Garrard County Health Department nursing director Renee Davis said whooping cough can be dangerous for the extremely young because of their tiny airways.
Kathy Crown-Weber said she has not had any reported cases, but she has seen clusters of pertussis with some regularity since taking over as director of the Mercer Health Department several years ago. She said she and her staff have been bracing for calls about possible cases since the disease started showing up in other counties.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed we can stay off that list," Crown-Weber said.
Crown-Weber said it's a good time to remind people to get vaccinated or have a booster shot, particularly those who are in contact with young children. Although older people may be able to fight off pertussis without severe complications, they are the most likely to pass it to a more vulnerable family member or contact.
However, the pertussis component was only added in the last decade and many adults either haven't had the vaccine or a booster. The trend of people who oppose any form of vaccination for children also can leave some susceptible.
Treatment for pertussis will typically include an antibiotic, but Crown-Weber said it is “hit-or-miss” whether an entire family will receive antibiotics when a case is suspected. If anyone is experiencing whooping cough symptoms, even if they do not feel extremely sick, Crown-Weber said they should go to a doctor to get checked out because early detection and treatment can be key.
Until being examined by a physician, Crown-Weber said it is important to stay away from large gatherings, such as church services, where many people still try to go despite feeling under the weather.
So you know
Anyone interested in learning more about whooping cough can vista the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/pertussis/about. For information about receiving a vaccine contact your health care provider or your local health department.