Whooping cough cases increasing statewide
Pertussis cases 2005-12
Updated: October 30, 2012 12:56PM
The hospitalization of children this year due to an increase in whooping cough cases is frustrating for Elaine Rosenfeld.
She is the director of pediatric-infectious disease at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. She hasn’t seen any recent fatalities attributed to the respiratory disease, but she said the loss of infant patients in the past is unacceptable.
“There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that any baby should die when we have a readily available vaccine for pertussis,” she said.
Pertussis, the medical term for whooping cough, is characterized by uncontrollable spats of violent coughing.
Like most areas in the country, suburban Cook County is experiencing an increase in pertussis cases at a rate expected to trump last year’s decade-high of 280 cases.
The Cook County Department of Public Health has received 336 reports of pertussis between January and Aug. 15 of this year, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Chicago, Evanston, Oak Park, Skokie and Stickney Township collect their own data on diseases and are not included in those figures. Skokie has seen two cases this year through Aug. 15, and had 10 last year, according to IDPH.
Sandy Martell, the interim chief operating officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, said most of the reported ill are 10 to 14 years old, followed by 5 to 9 year olds.
Health officials attribute its rise to a variety of factors — including better awareness and thus increased diagnoses of the disease during the past decade.
The waning effectiveness of the pertussis vaccine, particularly in children who received the shot between ages 4 and 6, also contributed to the spike in cases.
Whooping cough is caused by a germ residing in the mouth, nose and throat that is easily spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing, according to the IDPH.
Symptoms initially mimic those of a common cold — a runny nose and slight fever accompanied by an occasional cough — but increase in severity after one to two weeks.
Rough, spasmodic coughing fits, followed by the high-pitched “whoop” sound, may cause the infected person to turn blue, vomit and become exhausted, according to the IDPH.
Although most are able to recover from whooping cough with an antibiotic, pertussis could prove fatal to vulnerable populations that lack immunity, particularly babies under 1.
Martell said preventing the spread of a respiratory disease is done through immunization, isolation, and hygiene habits like covering a cough and frequent hand-washing.
To curb the disease, the state is requiring those entering sixth and ninth grades to receive a booster dose.
And while parents may be focused on good attendance when students head back to school, Martell said it is more important to keep kids home if they are sick.
Health services coordinator Robin Olson said East Maine School District 63 had one pertussis report last year.
She said the district is strict about its immunization policy and wellness program in part because of a number of students travel or are exposed to people from outside the U.S.
Communicable disease specialist Margaret Keeler said the Evanston Health Department often sees a spike in pertussis cases following summer travels and the return to school.
Martell said getting children and adults caught up on pertussis booster shots is key to ensuring the disease doesn’t affect vulnerable populations.
“We will always have an unprotected infant population,” she said. “We need to cocoon around those who cannot be vaccinated by those who are.”