Nine school-aged children in Howard County in West Texas were diagnosed with pertussis in November, prompting the Texas Department of State Health Services to caution parents, students and others in the area to take steps to protect against the potentially deadly disease. Texas is currently experiencing a statewide pertussis outbreak.
Pertussis is a bacterial infection that often starts with cold-like symptoms and a mild cough. After a week or two, severe coughing can begin and last for several weeks. Coughing fits may be followed by vomiting or a “whooping” sound, the reason the disease is also called “whooping cough.” The disease spreads easily through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes; people with pertussis are most contagious while they have cold-like symptoms and during the first two weeks after coughing starts.
Pertussis can be deadly for young children because it can interrupt their breathing. While the illness tends to be milder in older children and adults, there is a concern that an adult or older child who doesn’t seem very sick could spread pertussis to an infant. All nine children diagnosed in Howard County had been vaccinated, but vaccine protection can fade over time.
Parents should check their children’s shot records to be sure they are completely vaccinated against pertussis and keep infants, especially those less than 6 months old, away from people with a cough. DSHS also encourages anyone with an unexplained, prolonged cough or who has had close contact with a person with pertussis to contact their health care provider. Early diagnosis and treatment may reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the contagious period. People who have pertussis should not go back to work or school until they’ve completed five days of antibiotic treatment.
Adults should talk to their doctor about receiving a booster dose of pertussis vaccine. DSHS recommends pregnant women get a dose of pertussis vaccine during every pregnancy to help protect the baby. Fathers, siblings, extended family members, medical providers and others who will be around newborns should be vaccinated, too.
There have been 3,311 pertussis cases in Texas this year, including three deaths. All three deaths were of children too young to be vaccinated.