Pertussis breaks out in Pierce CountyPertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is hitting Wisconsin residents hard this year — about 10 times more so than in 2011.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is hitting Wisconsin residents hard this year — about 10 times more so than in 2011.
From Jan. 1 to May 31, more than 1,800 confirmed and probable cases of pertussis were reported to the Wisconsin Division of Public Health. In 2011, the same time period saw just 158 cases.
DPH said the pertussis activity in the past six months is the most observed since the last large outbreak from 2004-05. The same trend is being noticed in individual counties as well.
“The numbers right now are just climbing,” Pierce County public health nurse Dianne H-Robinson said.
Pierce County’s cases weren’t unusually high like some parts of the state at the beginning of the year, but as soon as May came around the reports started coming in quickly. There have been 38 cases reported so far. And as much as doctors would like to pinpoint the original source, that isn’t likely.
“Pertussis is out there and we can’t really tell where it came from,” H-Robinson said.
Now that it’s here, health officials are urging Wisconsin residents to take precautions against the contagious disease.
“The best defense against pertussis continues to be vaccination,” Wisconsin health officer Henry Anderson said. “We recommend all Wisconsin residents check their vaccination status and schedule a visit to their health care providers if they have not yet been immunized against pertussis.”
Often infants are given pertussis vaccines in combination with diphtheria and tetanus vaccines, but it isn’t a guarantee since parents can choose not to have their children receive it. However, avoiding the vaccine comes with its own set of risks.
According to the Pierce County Health Department, newborns with pertussis can experience severe complications — including death — and more than half of infected infants require hospitalization.
“But we also worry about the immunosuppressed and the elderly people,” H-Robinson noted.
Symptoms of pertussis begin much like a cold, featuring a low-grade fever and mild, irritating cough. They progress to becoming violent and rapid fits that keep a person coughing until the air is gone from their lungs and they’re forced to inhale, causing a loud “whooping” sound.
Other traditional symptoms of the illness include vomiting and exhaustion as a result of the coughing fits.
While vaccines are no doubt recommended, they won’t necessarily keep the disease from being spread. Someone who has been vaccinated is still able to catch pertussis, which is why doctors also encourage safe behaviors in order to protect themselves.
Those with pertussis should isolate themselves for the first five days of antibiotic therapy, and those without the disease should avoid contact with an infected person and wash their hands frequently. Once pertussis is in someone’s system, it takes its sweet time leaving.
“In the olden days it used to be called the 100-day cough,” H-Robinson said.
Treatment is available, but it’s less beneficial for the individual with pertussis and more beneficial for the people they’re around.
“The antibiotic that people go on is really just to make them not contagious for other people,” H-Robinson explained. “It doesn’t necessarily decrease the severity of the disease.”
As cases continue to be steadily reported, it’s unclear how long the pertussis outbreak will last in Wisconsin.
“You think it’s going to die down and then you get a day where you get called for four cases,” H-Robinson said. “I don’t think there’s any way of knowing.”