CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. – On Monday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported a pertussis outbreak. Bordatella pertussis, commonly known as “whooping cough,” was identified in Franklin and Cumberland counties.
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by infectious respiratory secretions.
The very young, elderly and those with weakened immune systems have the highest risk of severe complications.
Symptoms typically develop between five and 10 days from exposure and can range in severity. Occasionally, symptoms may not present for up to three weeks.
Since pertussis mimics the common cold in its earlier stages, it often is not suspected or diagnosed until more severe symptoms present. Early symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Low-grade fever
- Mild, occasional cough
- Apnea, or pause in breathing (most common in babies)
Later symptoms include:
- Fits of many rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop” sound.
- Vomiting during or after coughing fits
- Exhaustion after coughing fits
Pertussis commonly is treated with antibiotics. Early treatment is best and can help limit the severity of illness and exposure to others.
Some people may need treated in the hospital because of the severity of their illness. Those treated at home should take prescribed medications and:
- Stay hydrated
- Eat small, frequent meals to prevent vomiting
- Avoid irritants such as smoke, dust or chemical fumes
- Use a cool mist humidifier to soothe the cough and loosen mucus
Community members are reminded they can help stop the spread of germs by staying home from work or school if ill and by practicing good handwashing.
Prevention starts with ensuring you and your loved ones are up-to-date with recommended pertussis vaccines.
There are two types of pertussis vaccines – DtaP for babies and children, and Tdap for preteens, teens and adults. Getting vaccinated with Tdap during every pregnancy is especially important for women since it helps protect newborn babies who are unable to receive the vaccine.
In addition, it is important that caregivers of babies be vaccinated and keep them away from anyone with cough or cold symptoms.
Babies and Children: In the United States, the recommended pertussis vaccine for children is DTaP. This is a safe, effective combination vaccine that protects children against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. For maximum protection against pertussis, children need five DTaP shots.
The first three shots are given at two, four and six months old. The fourth shot is given to children who are 15 through 18 months old and a fifth shot is given between four and six years of age when a child enters school. If a child between the ages of seven and 10 is not up-to-date with DTaP vaccines, a dose of Tdap should be given before the 11- to 12-year-old check-up.
Preteens and Teens: Vaccine protection for pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria can decrease with time. Preteens should get a booster vaccine, Tdap, when they are 11 or 12 years of age.
Teens and young adults who didn’t get a booster of Tdap as a preteen should receive a booster at their next appointment with their healthcare professional.
Pregnant Women: Expectant mothers should receive one dose of Tdap during each pregnancy, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks. By getting the Tdap during pregnancy, maternal pertussis antibodies are passed to the newborn, providing protection against pertussis in early life, before the baby starts getting DTaP vaccines at two months old. Tdap also protects the mother, making her less likely to spread pertussis to her baby.
Adults: Adults 19 years of age or older who didn’t receive Tdap as a preteen or teen should get a single dose of Tdap. Adults get Tdap in place of one of their regular tetanus boosters – the Td shot that is recommended for adults every 10 years. The dose of Tdap can be given no matter when the last tetanus shot was received.
If you have questions about what vaccinations are recommended for your specific situation, contact your healthcare provider.
If you believe you have pertussis, please contact your provider to determine a course of action.