As winter continues to creep around the corner, illness is making its regular debut. Not only has the seasonal flu bug begun, but another sickness, whooping cough, also known as pertussis, has struck the Ogden area with force.
This year alone, more than 870 cases of whooping cough have been reported to the Utah Department of Health. This disease is preventable through vaccination, but with schools in full session, it is starting to spread throughout the classrooms.
“What concerns me is that I wonder why and where the increased cases are coming from,” said Bret Bowler, a Weber State University testing center faculty supervisor.
Amy Carter, communicable disease and epidemiology director and registered nurse at the Weber-Morgan Health Department, said that so far, Weber and Morgan counties haven’t reported any pertussis outbreaks in schools.
“We do know that pertussis is circulating throughout the state,” Carter said. “In 2012 and 2013, we have had a large increase of pertussis partially due to the nature of the infection and how people’s immunity with this bacterial infection works.”
More than 89 cases of whooping cough have been reported in Davis County. Out of all of these cases, 48 percent were school-aged children and adolescents. According to Carter, the age group with the highest rates of infection are infants younger than 1 and children ages 5-14. Carter said babies are at a high risk of complications, hospitalization and possibly even death if the cough is not caught quickly and treated.
“This age group has a less mature immune system than older children and adults and can easily be infected with pertussis by parents, siblings or caregivers,” Carter said. “Utah’s main goal in pertussis education and prevention is to immunize our communities, not only to protect our adults and children, but especially to protect our infants from being exposed. This concept is called ‘cocooning’ and is very important for our more vulnerable populations.”
The whooping cough has many warning symptoms. It should start out similar to the symptoms of a cold, with congestion, possible low-grade fever and a mild cough that develops into a worsening cough 1-2 weeks later. Oftentimes, people will have coughing fits that make the “whooping” sound caused from breathing difficulty during coughing spells, and vomiting from coughing. Generally, this severe cough can last 4-6 weeks or even up to about three months if a person is not treated within the first few weeks of the illness.
WSU students should be aware that whooping cough is contagious. The incubation period is approximately 4-21 days after exposure, so health professionals urge students and faculty to remember healthy habits, such as washing hands and containing germs if possible, so as not to pass the illness to small children who are susceptible to infection.
The best way to prevent whooping cough is by getting the vaccination and being up to date on immunizations. Although the vaccine is not 100 percent guaranteed, it still offers a good chance of not getting infected, with about an 80 percent protection rate against the disease.
“I consider myself a laid-back father,” said Jared Tenney, WSU testing center faculty supervisor. “As long as my kids are up to date on their vaccinations, I really don’t worry about it.”
The health department is currently going to all Ogden and Weber elementary schools and offering the Tdap vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis to students who will be attending seventh grade in the next school year to help them fulfill this immunization requirement and boost their protection against pertussis. Teachers, parents and other school staff are also invited to these outreach clinics to receive Tdap boosters if they have not had one previously.