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Whooping cough is on the riseVaccinations key to reduce numbers, death

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Guess what’s back? Whooping cough. Actually, the disease, known to physicians as pertussis, has never really gone away. Technological advancements in vaccines decreased the incidence of whooping cough in infants but cases of whooping cough are on the rise due to “reservoirs of pertussis in the community” among adolescents and adults.

“Like many vaccines, when people were no longer afraid of the disease, they became afraid of the vaccine,” said Christopher Belcher, director of pediatric infectious diseases at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent.

In the late 1970s, parents feared-vaccines caused seizures and problems with “whole-cell” pertussis vaccines, which are no longer used. Today, some fear vaccines cause diseases such as autism. Lax attitudes of vaccination, no vaccinations at all, kids going to day care at younger ages and the discovery of whooping cough in teens and adults are some of the reasons for spikes in pertussis trends putting susceptible populations at risk.

Whooping cough is highly contagious and a miserable disease – it can be fatal to babies under three months or those who have not received their vaccines yet. Other pockets of susceptibility are kids ages 9 to 12 and adults.

This year, the state of California has had more than 10 infant deaths due to whooping cough. Belcher said Hoosiers should expect to see an increase in whooping cough cases.

Typically, it begins about seven to 10 days after exposure. Symptoms include runny nose, congestion, cough and a low-grade fever.

Sounds like the common cold or flu, right? What separates whooping cough from common illnesses is episodes of cough that come on suddenly and violently leading to a sudden gasp for air creating a “whoop” sound. Severe cases can cause vomiting, breaking of facial blood vessels, complications of pneumonia, bleeding in the brain or seizures.

“Most people recognize in a little baby, chronic cough, problems with oxygen and turning blue, but in an adult, it may appear totally different. A lot of people would not be able to make the diagnosis of whooping cough in an adult,” said John Christenson, professor of clinical pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and director for the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Riley Hospital for Children.

If someone suspects they have whooping cough, they need to seek medical attention immediately for testing. If whooping cough is found, the patient is treated with an antibiotic. That antibiotic does not improve whooping cough, but it makes the patient unable to infect others – unfortunately they will continue to cough.

Those who are taking advantage of the recommended flu vaccine this year should ask providers if whooping cough vaccines are available. Parents and caretakers (even those over age 65) of infants and pregnant women are strongly encouraged to become vaccinated and adolescents should get a booster vaccine.

Vaccination is suggested and diminishes the likelihood of coming down with infection, but acquiring whooping cough cannot be prevented.

Furthermore, vaccination cannot be forced. Belcher said that health care officials are using school entry requirements to strongly encourage vaccinations to slow down whooping cough rates. Unvaccinated children on the basis of religion or medical exemption attending school may be asked to leave if an epidemic breaks out.

“It’s just trying to convince people these are bad diseases. It’s horrible to cough for a month or two. Education on why we vaccinate and how safe the vaccines are are very important,” added Belcher.

For more information on whooping cough, call the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent at (317) 338-KIDS or visit peytonmanning.stvincent.org; the Riley Hospital for Children at (800) 248-1199 or visit rileychildrenshospital.com; or the Marion County Health Department at (317) 221-2000 or mchd.com.

You can e-mail comments to Jessica Williams-Gibson at Jessica-recorder @indy.rr.com.

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