The number of cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, is at a five-year high, according to a news release from the Sedgwick County Health Department.
The health department has received 27 reported cases of pertussis in November.
Pertussis is highly contagious but preventable with a vaccine. It’s a bacterial disease that spreads when an infected person sneezes or coughs droplets into the air.
Valerie Creswell, Wesley Medical Center’s infection prevention medical director, says people should use common sense to prevent spreading the disease, and babies are especially at a high risk for it. Children can get their first vaccine dose for pertussis at two months, Creswell said.
“Cover your cough, don’t go out when you’re sick and wash your hands,” Creswell said. “Especially be conscious over the holiday season being around small children when you’re ill.”
Creswell said she thinks the higher number of cases locally may be due to fewer parents opting to vaccinate their children.
“Unfortunately, we tend to be in an area where people don’t like to vaccinate and that’s why we’re seeing a lot of vaccine-preventable diseases,” Creswell said.
“Depending on infection, you need about 90 percent of the population immunized to protect the rest. People assume ‘Everyone else is immunized, so I don’t need to,’ but that causes these preventable diseases to rear their ugly head and come back.”
Crewswell said they recommend pregnant women and any adults who spend time with newborns be vaccinated for pertussis since the most common transmission to babies is from a family member.
A new government study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says the pertussis vaccine may not work as well as previously thought since it prevents people from getting sick but may not keep them from spreading the disease.
“We know there are a lot of suspicions because of an increase in pertussis nationwide over the last couple of years that the childhood vaccine is not as effective as we thought, but vaccinations are still the way to go,” Creswell said.
She also said that most vaccines don’t work right away and can take a few weeks to become effective.
Nationwide, the number of whooping cough cases is at an all-time high since the vaccine was introduced in the 1940s. Last year was the worst for whooping cough in six decades, with more than 48,000 cases and 18 deaths.
There have been 20,000 cases and six deaths nationwide this year.
Those who have symptoms should visit a health care provider. The health department offers pertussis vaccines. To get a vaccine, call 316-660-7300.
Contributing: Associated Press