Top of Utah physicians are seeing an increase in the number of cases of whooping cough, following a trend that’s also playing out on the national level.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week it is expecting the worst year for whooping cough in more than five decades, with the number of cases rising to an epidemic rate.
“We have seen an increase in pertussis (whooping cough) numbers across the state for this year,” said Amy Carter, a registered nurse at the Weber-Morgan Health Department.
There have been 547 cases throughout the entire state, Carter said. Last year there were a total of 618 cases. The Weber-Morgan District has seen 73 cases this year, with 55 reported to the Davis County Health Department.
Local hospitals are also treating more whooping cough patients, with nine at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden. In 2009 there were a total of 12 cases.
Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful has not treated any whooping cough so far. Spokeswoman Tiffany Burnett said the hospital has a variety of processes in place to help protect patients and employees, such as vaccinating all new mothers before they are discharged and offering the vaccine to emergency room patients.
Nationwide, nearly 18,000 cases has been reported in 2012, more than twice the number seen for the same time period last year, according to the CDC.
Health investigators are trying to figure out why. Theories include better detection and reporting of cases, some sort of evolution in the bacteria that cause the illness, or shortcomings in the vaccine.
The vaccine that had been given to young children for decades was replaced in the late 1990s after concerns about rashes, fevers and other side effects. While the new version is considered safer, it is possible it isn’t as effective in the long term, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, who oversees the CDC’s immunization and respiratory disease programs.
Some parents in California and other states have rebelled against vaccinations and gotten their children exempted from rules that require them to get immunized to enroll in school. Washington state has one of the highest exemption rates in the nation. But the CDC said that does not appear to be a major factor in the outbreak, since most of the youngsters who got sick had been vaccinated.
“Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that affects the respiratory system,” Carter said. “Symptoms of pertussis often go in stages, with the first typically mimicking cold symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and sore throat.”
This is followed by a second stage that includes coughing spells or fits. Coughing can also interrupt sleep and cause vomiting as well as a whooping sound made while trying to catch your breath, Carter said. The coughing can last anywhere from six to 10 weeks.
Infants younger than a year old, pregnant women or people with weakened immune systems are at highest risk for infection or complications, which include hospitalization or death.
The best prevention is vaccination. Infants and children should receive the vaccine at 2, 4 and 6 months and again between 15 to 18 months with a booster at 4 to 6 years of age. A booster should be given to everyone between 11 and 12 years old and all adults should also receive a booster.
“Anyone who has symptoms should contact their medical provider about testing and treatment and they should stay home from school, work or other activities until they have completed five days of an appropriate antibiotic treatment,” Carter said.
Hand washing, covering your mouth while coughing and sneezing, keeping infants away from people with colds and coughs are all ways to protect yourself. Local health departments are also offering the vaccine at school clinics as well as the health department.
Information from the Associated Press is included in this article.