CLEARFIELD -- An "unusually high number" of pertussis reports involving school-aged adolescents have put area health officials on heightened alert.
During the past few weeks, Davis County Health Department has seen a high number of pertussis cases, said Bob Ballew, county health public information officer.
And Davis County is not alone.
Increases in cases and school outbreaks have also been reported in Cache, Box Elder, Salt Lake, Weber and Morgan counties, health officials said.
This year to date Weber-Morgan Health Department has received 36 confirmed cases of pertussis, aka whooping cough, compared to a total of 25 cases in all of last year, said Lori Buttars, Weber-Morgan County Health public information officer.
From January to mid-May of this year, Davis County Health has seen 18 cases of pertussis, double the number of cases the department saw in 2011 during the same time period, according to statistics provided by Davis County Health officials.
"Department officials encourage health care providers in Davis County to maintain a heightened level of suspicion of pertussis in patients with cough-related illnesses," Ballew stated in a news release.
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We're seeing it all along the Wasatch Front," Buttars said of the disease.
Health officials, through school outreach clinics, are trying to educate the public about being immunized, in the hope of avoiding an outbreak.
Weber-Morgan Health Communicable Disease Nurse Amy Carter said the way pertussis works is, people build up immunity from it by having had the disease, or through vaccinations. But those methods do not provide lifelong protection from the disease, with studies showing whooping cough going in waves, she said.
That is why health officials encourage the public to remain current on their vaccinations, Carter said. The vaccinations available are the DTaP for infants up to 6 years old and the Tdap booster for adults.
"It can be very disruptive to your daily activities," she said.
Whooping cough can typically start with a running nose and mild cough, progressing to a more severe cough, which can be particularly dangerous for babies and young children because it makes it difficult for them to breath, she said.
"That is where kids will get that whooping sound, gasping for a breath after a coughing fit," Carter said of the disease, which is spread through close contact when someone infected with it coughs and sends infectious droplets into the air.
"It's terrible on small infants. They just can't catch their breath in between (coughs)," Buttars said.
Symptoms include cough, congestion and fever, progressing to a severe cough which may include vomiting or gagging after the coughing spells, said Brian Hatch, Davis County Health Department epidemiologist.
Hatch said anyone with symptoms is to contact their physician.
If someone has pertussis, antibiotics are most effective when given early in the illness, Hatch said.
"If ill, stay home from work, school and other public gatherings to help prevent the spread of the illness," he said.
Hand-washing and covering the mouth when sneezing or coughing is especially important, he said.