Whooping cough, otherwise known as pertussis, is a respiratory infection caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. The disease continues to make headlines this year, with Snohomish County declaring an epidemic and cases popping up in counties throughout Washington. I have swabbed a few children in clinic, but fortunately, there hasn’t been a positive test thus far.
Prior to the availability of vaccination, whooping cough would kill 5,000 to 10,000 people in the United States each year. The symptoms initially appear like a common cold. After about 1 to 2 weeks, a dry cough develops that evolves into coughing spells. Children can cough for periods longer than a minute, causing them to struggle for oxygen—a frightening development that can lead them to turn red or purple. At the end of this coughing spell, the child may make the characteristic whooping sound as they begin to breath again. Pertussis is highly contagious and can be spread from person to person. For us grown ups, it is an annoying cough that lasts over a month. For young children, it can be deadly.
At Group Health, we now give a booster dose of the pertussis vaccine to all children at their 11-year check up. The Tdap vaccine is also important for grown ups to get as well, as the immunity of the vaccine we received has children wears off in adulthood.
Please take the time to make sure you are protected, and that you protect others by being vaccinated. More information is available on ghc.org.