Recent reports have cited a rise in cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in the Princeton area.
A national report that came out in July indicated that “whooping cough is causing the worst epidemic seen in the United States in more than 50 years.”
“We had a number of cases of whooping cough in the spring that continued into the early part of the summer,” said pediatrician Louis Tesoro of the Princeton Pediatric Group. “While it seemed to subside when kids went away to camp, some new cases have popped up with the return to school.”
In Princeton, it is estimated that about 20 cases have been reported this year, as opposed to a single case the preceding year.
Once it is diagnosed, a person with whooping cough needs to remain at home until they’ve received an adequate dose (usually five days) of antibiotics. The infection can last as long a six weeks.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine describes pertussis as “a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing.” The coughing can make it hard to breathe, and a deep “whooping” sound is often heard when the patient tries to take a breath.
“There’s little you can do in the midst of the cough,” Dr. Tesoro noted. “The best way to prevent pertussis is to make sure that your child is completely vaccinated and to know what’s going on in your community.” Many pertussis cases go unreported. “If you know or suspect that your child has pertussis, said Dr. Tesoro, “get treatment as soon as you can. If an individual is diagnosed with it, their entire family should also seek treatment.”
Very young children, in whom pertussis can cause permanent disability and even death, are of the greatest concern in treating whooping cough. “Older children and adults usually do okay with it, although it can last many weeks until the cough subsides,” Dr. Tesoro said.
“Unfortunately whooping cough begins with the same symptoms as many other respiratory infections: runny nose and other cold symptoms,” said Dr. Tesoro. After about a week, he said, the cough progresses to one that is “spasmodic in nature.” At this point it is not too late to control the spread of the infection. Contagion occurs when an infected person sneezes or coughs, causing tiny droplets containing the bacteria to move easily through the air, from person to person.
The best way to prevent pertussis, say medical experts, is to get vaccinated. There are vaccines and boosters for infants, children, preteens, teens and adults. While most children are routinely immunized before entering school, recent reports of unpleasant side effects of vaccinations, have made some adults reluctant to vaccinate their children or give them booster shots. And, a new study recently published in The New England Journal Medicine suggests that “the protective power of the acellular vaccine declines rapidly after the final dose.”
The Library of Medicine, however, says that the DTaP, the vaccine typically given to infants, is safe. They recommend five DTaP vaccines, usually given to children at ages 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years. There is evidence that children who are “fully inoculated against whooping cough become more susceptible to the disease as the vaccination wanes over time, contributing to outbreaks.”