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12/17/09news article

whooping cough on the rise

Dayton Children’s has seen over 70 positive cases so far this year

Since January 2010, Dayton Children’s has seen over 70 positive cases of pertussis (whooping cough), more cases than seen in the 12 months previous.

What is pertussis?

“Pertussis is an infection in the lungs caused by bacteria most often found in infants and young children,” says Sherman Alter, MD, director of infectious disease at Dayton Children’s. “It is very contagious and easily spreads.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who are too young to be fully vaccinated and those who have not completed the primary vaccination series are at highest risk.

Teenagers and adults can also catch pertussis, but the diagnosis is often overlooked. pertussis, or whooping cough, can be prevented with a vaccine, it remains a concern in the United States and throughout the world. Unlike most other vaccine preventable illnesses, the immunity from the pertussis vaccine wears off, therefore teens and adults are at risk even though they were vaccinated as children.

What are the symptoms of pertussis?

Pertussis usually starts with flu-like symptoms - sneezing, dry cough, slight fever, loss of appetite or poor feeding. This is then followed by two to six weeks of coughing spells. Vomiting or spitting up mucus may occur after the coughing spells. Pertussis typically lasts six to 10 weeks.

Can pertussis be spread to others?

Pertussis is highly contagious and can be spread to other children and adults through close contact with an infected person. Germs are often spread by sneezing and coughing.

Who is at serious risk?

Children, especially infants, are at serious risk. Parents should take their children to a doctor immediately for treatment.

How is pertussis treated?

Pertussis is treated with antibiotics for the infection. This treatment will also help to keep from spreading the infection to others. Anyone in close contact may also need to take an antibiotic. If the symptoms get worse, children may be admitted to the hospital.

To prevent pertussis, Dr. Alter and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the following tips:

  • Wash hands thoroughly.
  • Keep children away from anyone who is coughing and sneezing.
  • Vaccinate your children, teens and yourself. Combination vaccines are used to prevent diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. The DTap vaccination is given to children younger than 7 years of age and Tdap is given to older children and adults.
  • Children get a dose of DTap at each of the following ages: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 15-18 months and at 4 to 6 years.
  • The preferred age for pre-teen Tdap vaccination is 11 to 12-years-old. Adolescents not previously vaccinated should receive a single dose of the vaccine.
  • Adults who have not previously received Tdap and are in close contact with an infant under 12 months of age should also receive the vaccine.

What can I do for my child at home?

There are several things you can do to help your child be more comfortable:

  • Stay calm. Coughing spells can be scary for both you and your child.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of rest. Limit your child’s activities.
  • A mist humidifier or vaporizer may be used to help your child breathe easier.
  • Offer small amounts of fluids often such as 7-up®, Kool-aid®, water and Jello®.
  • Keep your child away from dirt, smoke and dust since these can cause more coughing spells.
  • Give all of the antibiotic order by your doctor even if your child seems to be getting better.

When should I call the doctor?

You should call your doctor whenever you are worried about your child. Be sure to call if:

  • Your child seems to be getting worse in any way.
  • Your child’s coughing spells happen more often or become worse.
  • Your child has a fever of 101.5°F or higher.
  • Your child is not taking fluids well or is not urinating at least four to five times per day.

Dr. Alter has written an article called Immunization Update 2010 in Primary Care Reports about the Tdap vaccine that published in November.

For more information about pertussis, contact your child’s doctor or visit our website at

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Alter Sherman

Sherman Alter, MD

infectious disease
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