Central Kentucky parents/caregivers should be on alert for pertussis


Pertussis, or whooping cough, is spreading throughout Lexington schools, and all central Kentucky caregivers should be on the lookout for signs and symptoms while ensuring their kids are up to date on their vaccines or fully vaccinated with the booster.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing. It affects people of all ages but can be most serious in infants and those with chronic diseases. More information can be found at www.LFCHD.org/pertussis.


The early symptoms are similar to a common cold: runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and coughing. After 1-2 weeks, the cough often gets worse, changing from a dry, hacking cough to bursts of uncontrollable, sometimes violent, coughing. During a coughing episode, it might be temporarily impossible to take a breath because of the intensity and repetition of the coughs. When finally able to breathe, the person might take a sudden gasp of air, which can cause a “whooping” sound. Vomiting and exhaustion can often follow a coughing spell.

If your child visits a medical provider for these symptoms, be sure to ask the child be tested for pertussis. Caregivers should also monitor their own symptoms (and be tested if symptomatic) and make everyone in the household is up to date on the vaccine, including boosters. 


The vaccine against pertussis is routine and required for school-age kids. One dose of the booster vaccine, called Tdap, is recommended for ages 11 and above for protection. Teenagers and adults who have never received the Tdap vaccine should check with their primary care provider or call the health department at 859-288-2483 Monday-Thursday to check availability. Although the vaccine is effective, immunity tends to decrease over time, making the booster important for older children and adults.

Fayette County has seen 6 cases, all in school-aged children, since late April, including two confirmed cases Tuesday at Lafayette and Henry Clay high schools. The previous cases have been at Bryan Station, Lafayette and Lexington Catholic high schools. 

The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department is investigating to see if a possible connection exists in the cases and continues to work with Fayette County Public Schools to make caregivers aware of the threat of pertussis. 

The health department is recommending preventive antibiotics for high-risk students who were exposed to pertussis. This includes students with a chronic illness or weakened immune system and those who live in households with the following: a family member with a chronic illness or weakened immune system, an infant or a pregnant woman.

Any school-age children with symptoms of pertussis should stay home from school and visit their health care provider for evaluation, even if they have previously been vaccinated. If found to have probable or confirmed pertussis, they should remain out of school until completion of their antibiotics. For more information about pertussis, call 859-288-2437.

Republished from Lexington-Fayette Health Department.