Pertussis, commonly referred to as “whooping cough,” is on the rise. Although its resurgence happens every few years, recent incarnations have been particularly aggressive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there was a 15 percent increase in cases between 2013 and 2014, bringing the total number to almost 33,000.
What is pertussis?
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Virtually 100 percent of unvaccinated people who come in contact with an infected person will get the infection as well, although only about one-third of them will experience the full-blown clinical syndrome.
Know the Symptoms
It begins with symptoms that resemble the common cold. After a few days, it morphs into a phase characterized by severe, uncontrollable coughing spells sometimes followed by a whooping sound, which can last for weeks.
The Causes Behind the Epidemic
Several factors may account for this sudden rise. Many parents and children are not getting vaccinated. Additionally, the current pertussis vaccine, which is given as part of the Tdap (tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis) vaccine, has a lower efficacy and shorter duration of action than vaccines used in the past.
Who Should Get Vaccinated
Anyone due for a Tdap should receive a routine vaccination that follows standard guidelines–this includes infants. Anyone in close contact with infants should consider getting the vaccine as well. Additional vaccination is now recommended for all women in their third trimester of pregnancy, regardless of when they had their last vaccine.
What You Should Do If You Think You Have Pertussis
If you think you might have pertussis, see your health care provider. You can be tested–usually with a nose or throat swab–to see if you have the disease.
The Treatment for Pertussis
Your provider will prescribe antibiotics that will clear the bacteria. If diagnosed within the first few days, treatment with antibiotics will shorten the duration of the illness, but because most patients initially think they only have a cold, diagnosis and treatment rarely happen in that window. Antibiotic treatment will, however, prevent the spread of the illness to others.
Could It Be Something Else?
Other respiratory illnesses can mimic pertussis, such as viral and other bacterial infections, asthma, and gastroesophageal reflux. Some ways to distinguish pertussis in adults include a history of exposure to someone else with pertussis, vomiting during or after coughing, and coughing that awakens the patient from sleep.
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