State Health Commissioner Urges Vaccination for Pertussis (Whooping Cough) as Number of Pertussis Cases Climbs Above This Period Last Year

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 24, 2010) -- State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today urged parents to make sure their children are vaccinated against pertussis, commonly known as "whooping cough," as the number of confirmed pertussis cases reported to date this year is well above last year's number.

Preliminary numbers for the first eight months of 2010 show 383 cases compared to 181 cases for the same period in 2009. New York State's most recent peak year for pertussis was in 2004, when nearly 2,000 cases were reported. About 30 percent of patients with pertussis require hospitalization. About 70 percent of those hospitalized are infants under the age of six months.

"Pertussis is quite contagious and can be serious, especially for infants less than one year old," said Commissioner Daines. "Reported cases of pertussis vary from year to year and tend to peak every three to five years. It is too early to know if 2010 will be a peak year for New York State. Timely vaccination against pertussis provides the best protection. In fact, if it weren't for widespread vaccinations among children and adults, we'd see many more cases of pertussis."

Lack of immunization and incomplete immunization contribute to the spread of pertussis. Vaccine to protect against pertussis is included in the combined DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine for children. Children should receive four doses of DTaP vaccine by 15 months of age and an additional dose of DTaP before they start school. Tdap (vaccine designed for adolescents and adults) is routinely recommended as a single booster dose for adolescents and adults age 10 to 64 years old, with preferred administration at 11 or 12 years old. Tdap vaccine is required for attendance in New York State schools in grades 6 through 9 for the 2010-11 school year.

Pertussis is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract that can easily spread through the air in droplets from an infected person by sneezing or coughing. The illness starts with cold symptoms and a cough, which becomes much worse during the first one or two weeks. The cough may last for months.

Symptoms usually include a long series of coughs (coughing fits) that may be followed by a whooping noise, vomiting, turning blue, or difficulty catching breath. Older children, adults and very young infants may not develop the whoop. There is usually only a slight fever. The cough is often worse at night and cough medicines usually do not help alleviate the cough.

The most common complication of pertussis is bacterial pneumonia. Other complications include middle ear infection, loss of appetite, dehydration, seizures, encephalopathy (a disorder of the brain), and apnea (brief cessation of breathing). Deaths from pertussis, though rare, do occur, especially in infants less than one year of age.

Anyone who has direct contact with someone with pertussis should receive preventive treatment, or prophylaxis, with antibiotics to help protect against the infection. Early administration of antibiotics to those who are already sick can help them get well faster and lower the chances of spreading the disease to others.

The State Department of Health (DOH) recommends:

  • Seek testing and treatment at the first sign of pertussis symptoms.
  • If you or your child is sick, stay home, cover your cough, practice good hand washing, and contact your doctor so that you or your child can get medicine to prevent the spread of pertussis.
  • If you or your child is sick, cooperate with your local health department as they work to track and contact all exposed friends, schoolmates and relatives so that they can receive preventive medicine.
  • Infants under one year old, especially those less than six months old, are most likely to have severe symptoms if they develop pertussis. When possible, young infants should be kept away from people with a cough. Infants with any coughing illness should be seen promptly by their doctor.
  • Medical providers are encouraged to promote and administer pertussis-containing vaccines for all those eligible. Everyone should ensure that they receive the recommended vaccine-- DTaP for infants and children and Tdap for adolescents and adults.

More information about pertussis is available on DOH's Web site at http://www.nyhealth.gov/diseases/communicable/pertussis/fact_sheet.htm

For information about getting vaccinated against pertussis, contact your primary care provider or local health department.