Whooping cough cases increasing statewide
Pertussis cases 2005-12
Updated: August 24, 2012 7:48AM
Medical professionals say the resurgence of whooping cough in Lake County suggests ongoing vaccination is necessary to reduce the rapid spread of the illness.
As of Aug. 15, Lake County had reported 117 cases of whooping cough to the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Last year, the department reported 155 cases to IDPH.
“What we need to do, more than ever, is get vaccinated to protect ourselves and protect each other,” Lake County Health Department Epidemiologist Victor Plotkin said.
Also known as pertussis, the highly-contagious respiratory disease is characterized by uncontrollable spats of violent coughing.
Health officials attribute its rise to a variety of factors, including better awareness and thus increased diagnoses.
The diminishing effectiveness of the pertussis vaccine, particularly in children who received the shot between ages 4 and 6, has also contributed to a spike in reported cases.
Data from the Lake County Health Department shows the county had an annual average of eight to 10 cases of pertussis less than a decade ago. It began increasing in 2004, with 164 reported cases.
Whooping cough then decreased for four years before rising in 2008, hinting at a cycle that may relate to the waning immunity of the vaccine, Plotkin said.
“It’s not just Lake County,” he said. “It’s a reflection of what’s going on nationwide.”
In Illinois more than 1,500 cases of whooping cough were recorded in 2011. The surge has continued this year as about 1,200 cases have been reported statewide as of Aug. 15, according to the state health department.
To curb further spread of the disease, Illinois now requires those entering sixth and ninth grades to receive a booster dose.
Although most people are able to recover from whooping cough with an antibiotic, the disease could be fatal to populations that lack immunity, particularly babies under 1.
“No one with a cough should be around an infant,” said Matt Knight, a communicable disease staff nurse for the Lake County Health Department.
Whooping cough is caused by a germ residing in the mouth, nose and throat that is easily spread through coughing and sneezing, according to the IDPH.
Its 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.
Babies are especially vulnerable to the disease. Since their smaller windpipes can’t exchange air as quickly, a lack of oxygen could ultimately cause brain damage or death, Knight said.
“It’s a very sobering thing for parents to go through,” he said. “There’s not much they can do except observe (the baby) and work with the doctor.”
In the 2007–2008 academic year, when vaccinations are suspected to have decreased in their efficacy, Barrington Community Unit School District 220 had an outbreak of 21 pertussis cases, according to district nursing supervisor Eva Detloff.
The number of ill have since returned to single-digit figures and health staff are adamant about it keeping it way.
“Sick kids need to stay home. Healthy kids need to be at school,” said Detloff, whose staff uses a 12-question survey to determine whether a student may be at risk for having pertussis.
Matthew Plofsky, a family-medicine physician at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Highland Park, said health professionals are also more vigilant about immunizing all appropriate age groups against pertussis, including adults and seniors over 65, as well as anyone in contact with infants.
“The new normal is that everyone should be aware of the need for regular booster shots,” he said.