Floridians who assume the cough they have is caused by one of the many cold viruses circulating around the area now or even the result of seasonal flu, might be surprised to learn that over the past two weeks the Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Broward County has confirmed 4 cases of pertussis (also known as whooping cough).
Three of the cases were in adolescents and 1 was in an infant.
Because many people don’t visit he doctor with a cough, this may not represent the true number of cases in South Florida.
As a result, health officials here have sent out a warning, encouraging residents to make sure they have been vaccinated against the disease.
Pertussis, which is caused by bacteria, is highly contagious. The symptoms include coughing and choking that can last for several weeks. The cough, especially in children, is quite distinctive (check out the video).
In adults symptoms may be confused with the common cold or bronchitis. When a diagnosis is confirmed by a physician, patients with pertussis usually get a course of antibiotics, but remain contagious for a week. Babies, however are much more vulnerable. 92 percent of the deaths from pertussis occur in infants under 4 months of age.
Since the 1980’s the reported incidence of infant pertussis has tripled. Many of the recent outbreaks have been on the west coast of the United States. But Floridians are also vulnerable.
The problem is parents and other caregivers of infants who are spreading the disease. That’s because many people assume that once they’ve had their baby shots, there is no need for further vaccinations. That’s not the case. Over time, the immunity achieved through the pertussis vaccine generally wears off. If an individual is exposed to the bacteria that causes whooping cough, they may get a less serious form of the disease because of previous vaccinations, but they are also able to spread the disease to anyone who has not been fully immunized- especially infants.
Outbreaks occur because the disease spreads easily from person to person, usually by coughing or sneezing. Most infants who get pertussis catch it from someone in their family, often a parent.
Because of the danger to infants, in 2013 new vaccine guidelines were added for pregnant women. Experts now recommend that all women -whether adolescent or adult- receive a booster dose of the tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (TDaP) vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks of gestation.
Newborns and infants under 3 months are too young to be immunized against whooping cough and therefore don’t yet have protection afforded from the vaccine. However, because the vaccine crosses through the placenta, the hope is that a pertussis immunization given to a mother near the end of her pregnancy will offer a high level of immunity to her baby.
Public health experts also advise anyone who will be around the baby, including the father, siblings and grandparents, to make sure they are up to date on their vaccines.
For more information on vaccination recommendations:
Vaccination schedule for infants and children
Vaccination schedule for preteens
Vaccination schedule for adults