NEWPORT CITY – The Vermont Department of Health (DOH) has announced that there is a whooping cough epidemic in the state with more people afflicted than ever before – ten times as many cases as last year. Vermont is not the only state seeing the problem, but it is ranked third in the nation for people with the illness.
Whooping cough, also know as pertussis, is a highly contagious illness caused by bacteria. It mainly affects the respiratory system. The DOH offered clinics throughout the state Wednesday for shots free of charge.
The goal is to protect people from getting sick, especially the most vulnerable. In the case of pertussis, it is infants. Pertussis can lead to serious diseases and even be fatal. As of Dec. 15, there were 568 confirmed cases, although the state estimates that about only one out of 10 cases is reported to public health.
Currently there are no deaths attributed to the illness. The last pertussis death documented in Vermont was in 1989.
In an interview, Vermont State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso said there are many factors to the outbreak. One could be the fact that the vaccine was changed in 2005. Previously the shot was whole cell and led to local adverse effects at the site of injection and, less commonly, more serious events. Those serious events led to changing the vaccine to an acellular version, which is considered safer. However, the vaccine is not as effective as health care providers would like.
Currently the most affected age group is 10 to 14 years. Kelso said it could be the effectiveness of the shot has begun to wane in this age group. However, people of all ages can get whooping cough and it can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death. Less serious illness can occur in older children and in those who have been vaccinated.
Pertussis is cyclical and peak outbreaks occur every three to five years, Kelso explained.
Symptoms include severe coughing spells that make it hard to eat, drink, breathe, or sleep. Sometimes those with the illness cough and then gag or make a “whooping” sound when inhaling. Babies younger than six months may or may not cough. Instead, they may have gagging or life-threatening pauses in breathing or may struggle to breathe. Some babies may turn blue because they don’t get enough oxygen and can’t catch their breath. Older kids and adults may just have a bad cough that lasts for multiple weeks, the DOH web site states.
Whooping cough spreads from breathing in pertussis bacteria when someone effected sneezes or coughs.
Symptoms usually appear five to 21 days after being around someone with whooping cough. It is generally treated with antibiotics.
The DOH states that getting vaccinated is the best way to stop the spread, along with good hand washings, covering a cough and sneeze, and staying home when sick.
For more information, visit http://healthvermont.gov/prevent/pertussis/Pertussis.aspx .