Aug 6, 2012 by Sallie Barker
While whooping cough is on the rise in metro Atlanta and U.S., doctors and nurses at Upson Regional Medical Center are taking proactive steps to keep the illness away from newborns.
Whooping cough, a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing, affects people of all ages, but is most serious in infants. It brings cold-like symptoms, followed by a long, severe cough that can last for weeks or months. Sometimes a “whoop” sound occurs while gasping for breath during a coughing episode. However, the sound is not always present.
Adolescents and adults often get a much milder case of whooping cough and may not realize they have the disease, though they can still spread it.
“This disease can be very serious for young babies, who often get whooping cough from adults and other family members. Most infected infants must be hospitalized,” said Dawn Hurst, a registered nurse and leader of Upson’s Labor and Delivery Unit.
Caregivers at Upson work to vaccinate mothers to help protect their newborns from the whooping cough. It is important for moms to be vaccinated because infants cannot receive the pertussis vaccine until two months of age.
“We know that when babies get whooping cough, it is usually transmitted from their parents or caregivers before the infant is fully immunized,” she said. “So what we’re trying to do is get ahead of the game and interrupt the cycle of transmission.”
Infection Preventionist Danny McBride says whooping cough was a leading cause of death among infants and children until the late 1970s, when regular vaccination reduced it to about 1,000 U.S. cases a year.
However, he said, pertussis is on a comeback, with approximately 27,500 cases reported in the U.S. in 2011, and this year, nearly 18,000 cases have been reported nationally so far — more than twice the number seen to date last year.
“Whooping cough is something we can easily deal with through prevention by vaccination,” McBride said. “Upson’s proactive stance is helping break the cycle of transmission, and keeping our littlest and most at-risk patients healthy.”
The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. There are vaccines for infants, children, preteens, teens and adults. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated against pertussis.