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Whooping cough cases are increasing statewide

Thursday, December 30, 2004

SIKESTON -- Health officials are encouraging parents to stay up-to-date with their children's vaccinations as the number of whooping cough cases is on the rise, both nationally and statewide.

As of Dec. 24, nearly 514 cases of pertussis or whooping cough have been confirmed in Missouri, compared to roughly 210 cases in 2003 -- almost a 500 percent increase, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

"Pertussis is typically a mild disease for adults and adolescents, it is extremely dangerous to infants," said Autumn Grim, epidemiology specialist for the Southeastern District of the Missouri Department of Health office in Poplar Bluff.

In addition, pertussis is highly contagious with 70 percent of household contacts developing the illness, Grim noted. In the Southeast Missouri District, 25 pertussis cases have been confirmed, compared to three or four last year, Grim said, adding that the department of health estimates only 30 percent of cases are reported.

Missouri is following a national trend of more pertussis cases, with most increase in adolescents and adults, the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services reports. "Part of the increase is because physicians are more aware and the other thing is there's not a recommended booster for adolescents, teens and adults," Grim explained.

Currently, there is a five-series pertussis vaccine -- a booster at 2, 4, 6 and 12 to 18 months with the last dose given before a child enters kindergarten, Grim explained.

"Roughly six years after the last dose, immunity starts to wane. So now adolescents, teens and adults are acting as reservoirs. We're seeing a lot of cases with them so they're the ones actually infecting the children," Grim explained.

But Grim said the Food and Drug Administration is looking at approving a booster for adolescents and adults.

In addition there has been an explosion of pertussis in schools, including one in the western part of the Southeast District, Grim noted.

"It is a huge concern, especially with kids that have babies in their households," Grim said. "The other problem with pertussis is the incubation period is anywhere from seven to 10 days and up to 21 days so a person can be contagious long before they actually have symptoms."

One of the common misconceptions about pertussis is that a person who's had pertussis can't get it again, but they can, Grim assured. Natural immunity lasts 15 to 16 years so a person can actually contract pertussis more than once, Grim explained.

Pertussis is typically treated with a 14-day prescription of the antibiotic, Erythromycin.