DECATUR — A pertussis outbreak reported in Champaign County has Macon County officials' attention, with an emphasis on children's vaccinations and adults having a booster shot to protect themselves from the communicable disease, commonly known as whooping cough.
“Any time we have a disease like that in a surrounding place, you always try to make sure you are on the lookout,” said Marisa Moomey, a Macon County Health Department educator.
In Champaign County, 37 cases of whooping cough have been confirmed this year, 20 of which are at Rantoul High School, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
Macon County has reported two cases of whooping cough, and those were both in the spring, Moomey said. The health department tracks the disease, and this year is on track with recent years with two cases each in 2016 and 2016. There were four cases in 2014 and five in 2013, according to health department data.
The last large outbreak in Macon County was in 2005 to 2006 when 42 people were confirmed to have contracted the disease, according a Herald & Review report at the time.
Whooping cough is most common among adolescents and adults, said Dr. Stosh Eichenauer with the hospitalists group at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital. The frequency is much lower in infants and young children because they receive the vaccination, he said.
Anyone who has not been vaccinated or had the disease previously is susceptible to infection, Eichenauer said.
Spread through droplets discharged when someone coughs or sneezes, at first the disease starts off like a cold then progresses into a cough, then a cough that won’t go away, Eichenauer said.
If the cough lasts more than two week, people should consult their doctor to see if they need further treatment, he said. Another common symptom is violent coughing attacks that leave the person either vomiting or exhausted, he said. In children, the airwaves tighten, so coughs make the distinct "whooping" sound, he said.
Symptoms don’t present for one to three weeks after infection, Eichenauer said, but people who’ve been exposed can be treated, so they don’t develop the disease, Eichenauer said. Exposure is a big risk because the disease is highly contagious.
“Unfortunately, it is kind of hard (for people) to really know,” he said. “A lot of the symptoms go along with the common cold, which is why people don’t think about it as much.”
Healthcare providers generally treat pertussis with antibiotics, and early treatment is very important, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatment may make your infection less serious if you start it early, before coughing fits begin.
The whooping cough vaccine is recommended for all infants. Before the vaccine, about 8,000 people died each year from the disease, according to the CDC, which said the number is now about 20 deaths each year.
“The vaccine does help if people have gotten it, and that’s why it’s gone down in the younger ages,” he said. But the recent increase in frequency of cases may be because people are not getting vaccinated as they should, he said.
The childhood vaccine is called DTaP, and the pertussis booster vaccine for preteens, teens, and adults is called Tdap. These are combination vaccines that protect against three diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis.
The best practice is to get vaccinated as a child and then again as an adult, because it can wear off from childhood, Eichenauer said. This is why adolescent and adult populations can contract and spread the disease in high numbers, he said.
Even if someone’s contracted the whooping cough previously, they are still at risk for infection and should receive the vaccine, Eichenauer said.