The Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County announced Friday an outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, and health officials are encouraging residents to ensure they have been vaccinated against the disease.
The outbreak involves two infants and eight children, adolescents and adults. Earlier this year there were also three infant pertussis cases and one pertussis case in a child reported in Okaloosa County.
Pertussis is a very contagious disease and spreads easily person to person. People get pertussis by breathing in droplets expelled from the nose or throat of an infected person during coughing or sneezing. It is also spread by direct contact with the discharges from the nose or throat of an infected person.
Pertussis begins as a mild upper respiratory infection.
The first symptoms are like those of a cold, including sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever, and a mild cough. Within two weeks, the cough becomes much worse. Children and the elderly with pertussis often have episodes of rapid, spasmodic coughing followed by a characteristic intake of breath that sounds like a “whoop.”
These “whooping” coughing spells can make it hard for a child or older adult to eat, drink, or even breathe.
Pertussis can be difficult to diagnose in infants who present with nonspecific symptoms, typically without a cough. Adolescents and non-elderly adults typically don’t develop the typical whooping cough either.
Generally it is this group of individuals with mild symptoms who unknowingly spread the disease to infants, younger children, and elderly adults who are at higher risk for serious disease and death. If one member of the household has pertussis, there is an 80% chance that susceptible household members will catch it.
Despite the availability of an effective vaccine for infants and booster shots for adolescents and adults, pertussis continues to cause serious illness and death. The reported incidence of pertussis in the United States has increased almost 17 times since 1979. Pertussis cases have been increasing since the 1980s as the number of infants and children who have never been immunized increases. In addition, pertussis immunity decreases over time and all adolescents and adults need to replace one routine tetanus booster with a Tdap booster.
Pertussis is preventable. The most important way to prevent pertussis is for all children to complete their primary immunization series by 2 years of age.
All children should receive an additional dose of DTaP prior to kindergarten entry and a Tdap booster prior to entering seventh grade. It is recommended that all adults should receive a Tdap booster dose instead of the tetanus booster (Td), which is typically taken every ten years. All pregnant women should receive a Tdap for every pregnancy prior to delivery or in the immediate postpartum period. Any adolescent or adult caring for infants should receive a Tdap regardless of when they received their last Td.