Most cases of pertussis are preventable with immunization," said Joshua Meyerson, MD, Medical Director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. "The single most important thing parents can do to protect their children from vaccine-preventable illnesses like pertussis is to get their infants vaccinated and follow the schedule for booster doses as their babies grow. We may not see very many cases of whooping cough but it can be a very serious illness."
Pertussis is a respiratory infection caused by bacteria that spread easily among persons in close contact, such as members of the same household. The illness starts as cold-like symptoms--runny nose, sneezing, mild cough--and at this point is indistinguishable from many other upper respiratory illnesses. A week or two later, the cough worsens, becoming a series of severe, intermittent coughing fits, which make it difficult to breathe. Children may make a strange "whoop" noise as they finally catch their breath, which is why pertussis has the nickname "Whooping Cough". The bouts of coughing may end in vomiting and often leave infected children exhausted.
"Our main concern is the number of babies who developed pertussis. They are at greatest risk of developing a severe case of pertussis, which can result in death," said Meyerson. "It is absolutely critical that infants get all of their vaccine doses on schedule to give them as much protection as possible. It’s also important for family members of young babies to get a pertussis booster shot so they are protected from the illness and don’t pass it on to infants."
Infants should receive four doses of pertussis vaccine by the time they are 18 months old. A routine booster dose is recommended for children before they start kindergarten.
"We also want to remind parents that booster shots that contain protection against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (Tdap) can fade with time." Pre-teens going to the doctor for their regular check-up at age 11 or 12 should get a dose of Tdap, he said. Adults who did not get a dose of Tdap as a pre-teen or teenager should get a dose, as should adults who are healthcare workers or who care for infants.Infants often get pertussis in their own homes, from members of their families. The illness is most serious in babies, especially infants under six months of age whose small lungs and respiratory systems are less able to manage the assault of the bacteria on their airways.
While those diagnosed and treated with pertussis should be treated with an appropriate antibiotic, vaccination against the disease is the best way to control it.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. For additional information regarding pertussis or the Tdap vaccination, contact your health care provider, Health Department office or visit www.michigan.gov/mdch.