Doctors: Get vaccinated to prevent whooping cough

Sedgwick County saw an uptick in whooping cough cases the past year, and although numbers appear to be coming down, doctors are urging pregnant women especially to take precautions.

Seven cases were reported to the Sedgwick County Health Department last month.

The upward trend began in June. From January to May of last year, six cases of pertussis — commonly called whooping cough — were reported to the health department. The number of cases increased to nine in June alone and then up to 14 in July and 24 in August, when the disease peaked in the area.

The number of cases went down in September, then back up in October, November and December with 14 cases reported in December.

Altogether, 105 cases of pertussis were reported from Jan. 1, 2012, through last month. Just 58 of those cases were confirmed, the health department says.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease that can be prevented by vaccine.

Via Christi Women’s “Connection” blog,, recently noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had advised that pregnant women get a booster, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine during each pregnancy to protect their babies against whooping cough.

Amy Seery, a pediatrician with the Via Christi Family Medicine Residency Program, stressed the importance of vaccinations.

She said whooping cough is tricky because “you only look like you have a nasty cold at first, but that’s when you’re really shedding the virus” and contagious, she said.

She said health providers encourage expectant mothers to get a booster shot because “even though parents don’t have symptoms, they can still give this to their child, their infant.”

The blog noted that infants don’t get their first pertussis vaccine until 2 months of age and aren’t fully protected until after their third shot at 6 months. The blog said experts also recommend immunizing a new baby’s father, siblings and other caretakers.

Initial symptoms resemble a common cold, and patients typically will complain of a runny nose, a hacking cough and a low-grade fever.

After one or two weeks, severe coughing starts. Pertussis is called whooping cough because patients cough violently and rapidly “until the air is gone from their lungs and they are forced to inhale with a loud ‘whooping’ sound,” a fact sheet from the health department said.

“These kids can start coughing so hard they can become exhausted and stop breathing or have seizures,” Seery said. “They can cough so violently that can have tiny bleeds.”

Whooping cough typically lasts four to six weeks, and symptoms usually appear between five and 21 days after infection.

Pertussis is spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs and drops of mucus are released into the air, the fact sheet said.

Patients are more contagious during the early stage of whooping cough. Antibiotics can help shorten the contagious period to one week, the fact sheet said.

Antibiotics also can help make symptom less severe, but babies often require hospitalization.

The health department stressed in its fact sheet that the best way to prevent whooping cough is to be vaccinated against it. The health department offers pertussis vaccinations.

Frequent and rigorous hand washing can help people avoid the illness as well as avoiding sharing drinking and eating utensils, the health department says.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says pertussis peaks every three to five years.