Whooping cough hits Union County

Written by Observer Upload October 17, 2012 01:55 pm

Two lab-confirmed cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, have been reported in Union County over the past week according to the Center for Human Development’s Public Health Services. 

The cases, the first in Union County this year, are among 741 reported in Oregon in 2012. The total is close to three times more than the 258 cases reported during the same time frame in Oregon in 2011.

These cases are not related and are in persons who are young and old, evidence that pertussis can affect anyone in Union County. There may also be other cases that haven’t been confirmed through testing.

“We suspect there are more pertussis cases here in the county but they are not being diagnosed due to stringent guidelines for case definition. This means a person can actually have the disease but not count as a lab-confirmed case,” said Carrie Brogoitti, public health administrator for the CHD.

No cases of pertussis have been reported this year in Wallowa County, according to the Wallowa County Health Department.

Pertussis is highly contagious and hits in two stages. The first stage looks like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and cough that slowly gets worse. The second stage is marked by uncontrolled coughing spells and a whooping noise when the person inhales, especially in young children. With the severe coughing spells, a person may vomit or become
short of breath.

Infants may become severely ill with pertussis and suffer major complications, including death. Adults, teens and vaccinated children often have milder symptoms. Babies less than one year of age, pregnant women in their third trimester and people who work with babies or pregnant women are at greatest risk and should be careful to avoid contact with potentially infected persons.

Germs persist

The germs that cause pertussis live in the nose, mouth and throat, and are sprayed into the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks. Other people nearby can then inhale the germs. Touching a tissue or sharing a cup used by someone with pertussis can also spread the disease. The first symptoms usually appear about a week to 10 days after a person is exposed. 

To reduce the risk of exposure to pertussis, the Center for Human Development suggests the following:

• Cover your cough by coughing into your elbow (not your hands) or use a tissue and promptly throw it in the trash.

• Wash your hands often for a minimum of 20 seconds.

• Don’t share drinks or utensils.

Many children receive vaccinations that protect against whooping cough, but older children, teenagers and adults who were completely immunized before they started kindergarten can still get pertussis because protection from the vaccine or from having the disease wears off over time.

“The most effective way of preventing the spread of pertussis is immunizing with DTaP or Tdap vaccines,” states Brogoitti. 

The Center for Human Development is encouraging people to review their immunization status to determine if they or their child need a booster. Any person older than 10 years of age should receive a Tdap booster immediately if they have never had one, as well as pregnant women during their third trimester.

Those with questions or who need assistance in determining if they or their child need a vaccination should contact their private physician or the Center for Human Development’s Public Health Services at 541-962-8800.