The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 27, 2012

Spike in pertussis cases is a cause for concern

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

— By Robb Murray

The good news is that the pertussis numbers in Blue Earth and Nicollet counties remain low.

The bad news is that the numbers are way up in the Twin Cities and a few outstate counties, and the disease is highly communicable.

“It kind of comes and goes,” said Brad Krier, a district epidemiologist with the state health department based in Mankato. “With communicable diseases, it can go from a low number to a high number very quickly.”

Just a few counties over, in fact, it has spread very quickly.

Freeborn County has 90 cases this year, part of the state’s huge increase that has health departments reminding people that, although we thought we had this one licked with vaccinations and public health initiatives back in the day, the fact is we don’t. And it’s not just Minnesota.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2007 to 2008 the nation reported 11,866 cases. From 2009 to 2010, that number has climbed to 22,204.

So far this year in Minnesota, the number of pertussis cases — more commonly known as whooping cough — is at 3,850. Last year, there were 611.

Kids who get the vaccine when they’re infants are protected, which is good.

Pertussis is hardest on the very young. Babies with pertussis, in fact, gave birth to the name “whooping cough.” When babies are in the throes of a violent coughing fit, they make a “whoop” sound.

The CDC said 80 percent of kids who contract pertussis get it from one of their parents, and that 63 percent of those kids end up in the hospital. The CDC said that when one person in the household gets pertussis, there’s more than a 90 percent chance that other susceptible household members also will get it.

And it’s not just kids who get it.

Adults are increasingly among the afflicted, which is why the CDC and the state Health Department are encouraging people to consider booster shots.

The vaccinations kids get when they’re young, the CDC says, can wear off. Booster shots called D-TAP are available from your doctor and can provide a barrier against pertussis.

The illness can spread rapidly.

In 2001 in Pine County, Ark., a member of a football team contracted pertussis, and by the time the spread was stemmed, 77 cases had occurred at that high school. More than 90 percent of those students, moreover, had been vaccinated.

In Freeborn County, the 90 cases they’re dealing with had a boost of sorts from the fact that an area sports team accounted for a good number of cases.

Krier said the best thing to do is to be aware of the symptoms, which include: runny or stuffed-up nose, sneezing, mild cough, a pause in breathing in infants (apnea,) and after a week or two severe coughing.

“Usually it’s worse at night,” he said. “If you’ve had a cough for over seven days, or you throw up after a coughing fit, go in and get it checked out.”

Krier said doctors will prescribe antibiotics for pertussis.