MOBILE, Ala. – The Mobile County Health Department said there’s an alarming rise in the number of pertussis cases in the area in recent weeks. Also known as whooping cough, pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease marked by uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe.
Between May 25 and June 11, Mobile County recorded approximately 18 pertussis cases.
In 2013, just eight confirmed and probable cases were reported in Mobile County. Of the 18 cases reported so far in 2014, 10 have been confirmed, health officials said. There are multiple ongoing investigations of other pertussis cases not included in the 18 reported so far, health officials said.
Pertussis most commonly affects infants and young children and can be fatal, especially in babies less than 1 year old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After a coughing fit, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths which can result in a “whooping” sound.
“They cough without stopping for five to ten times and they cannot breathe in between,” said Dr. Paola Maurtua-Neumann, a pediatrician with the University of South Alabama Children’s Medical Center, “At the end they usually vomit, and they have that very distinct, high-pitched whoop, at the end, when they are trying to get air in.”
Dr. Maurtua-Neumann, along with her staff, has diagnosed a majority of the cases so far. “The main thing is to have a high level of awareness,” Maurtua-Neumann said. “There are many cases in the community and it’s a very highly contagious disease that’s preventable by vaccination. Physicians should also think about the possibility of pertussis because of the outbreak.”
The best way to protect against pertussis is immunization.
Once a pertussis case has been confirmed, Maurtua-Neumann said, all family members residing with the person in question should receive treatment with antibiotics regardless of their immunization status: “Everyone who comes in contact with that person needs to receive treatment and by assessed for immunity.”
Dr. Maurtua-Neumann also said women who are pregnant need to be vaccinated in their third trimester so their infant will be better protected.
Beginning with the 2010-2011 school year, a Tdap vaccination became mandatory for students age 11 and older entering the sixth grade in Alabama. The Tdap shot protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, also known as whooping cough.
Vaccinations are available on weekdays at MCHD’s downtown location, 251 North Bayou St., from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. All required or recommended vaccinations are free or low-cost based on eligibility. Appointments are recommended, but not required. Parents and caregivers must bring their children’s immunizations records, Social Security cards and Medicaid cards or other insurance verification. Immunizations by appointment are available at all Family Health locations throughout Mobile. To schedule an appointment, call 251-690-8889.