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Whooping Cough Outbreak

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You may have heard about the recent outbreak of Whooping Cough in California. The number of cases filed indicates a rise in reported incidents as compared to last year. In fact, in July, California reported approximately 1,500 cases - an increase of 5 times the amount reported by this time last year. Sadly, in this recent outbreak, six infants under three months of age have died. So, what is whooping cough? What are the symptoms? And what can you do to prevent your little one or yourself from getting infected with it?

woman coughing

Whooping cough is also known as pertussis. It is a highly contagious bacterial infection that affects the respiratory system. However, it can be prevented by vaccination. If you're pregnant, your physician may have recommended that you get immunized as a precaution. But what about your little ones? What should you do to protect your baby?

Most pediatricians will agree that your little one should get the recommended series of five immunizations for children starting at 2 months, up through 4-6 years of age. This should be followed with a booster shot at age 11 and every 10 years thereafter. As with any vaccine, side effects may include low-grade fever, soreness where the injection was given - and a cranky baby! Very occasionally, severe side effects may occur. These can include high fever, persistent crying which lasts more than three hours and, even, seizures or coma.

One of the reasons that whooping cough is on the rise is because adults who received the vaccine when they were children have not gotten boosters. Their immunity has worn off, so when they become exposed to the bacteria again, they are vulnerable to getting the disease. For most adults, some varieties of the 10-year tetanus and diphtheria vaccine also protect them against whooping cough. This, in turn, reduces the risk of transmitting it to their babies. So, when you get your booster, you can ask your doctor if you should get this combination if you haven't gotten your tetanus vaccine and/or diphtheria vaccine. Then you're covered for all three!

Children 6 months and younger are at greatest risk because they are not fully immune to whooping cough until they have received at least three shots. Whooping cough can severely impact children in this age group, with the following:

• Ear infections
• Pneumonia
• Dehydration
• Seizures
• Brain Damage
• Slowed or stopped breathing

Typical symptoms appear in the form of a cold that can last up to two weeks - the telltale sign, however, is a nagging cough or a series of coughing fits that go on for weeks - or even up to a couple of months - and end with a whooping sound; imagine a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like a "whoop".
Once infected, symptoms take anywhere from a few days to up to two weeks to surface. Initial symptoms are mild at first and escalate in the weeks that follow. Here's what to look for:

Week 1 Symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Red, watery eyes
  • A mild fever
  • Dry cough

Week 2 Symptoms:
Typically, coughing attacks occur. They can be severe and be associated with:

  • Thick phlegm
  • Vomiting
  • A red or blue face
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Coughs that end with a high-pitched "whoop" sound during the next breath of air. Be aware that not all are those who are infected develop the characteristic whooping sound; many have only the persistent cough.

If any of the symptoms described in week two appear, contact your physician immediately.

Another thing you can do to protect your baby is to try and minimize his or her exposure to other children or to adults who come in contact with babies, such as babysitters and day care operators. But, because babies typically contract whooping cough from family members, be sure to get everyone in the immediate family vaccinated: grandmothers, siblings, neighbors and friends. It's easy to protect our children, our families and our communities from whooping cough. Spread the word (not the infection)!


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