Lexington has outbreak of whooping cough, which can be deadly for babies and prevented with vaccine that some adults need too

Whooping cough, known medically as 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, young children and those with chronic diseases.

The disease is largely preventable by vaccination, but vaccination rates for pertussis and other diseases prevalent in childhood have been declining.

“All Central Kentucky caregivers should be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of pertussis, or whooping cough, while ensuring their kids are up to date on their vaccines or fully vaccinated with the booster,” the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department said in a news release.

The latest Fayette County cases include one at Lafayette High School, one at St. Peter and Paul Catholic School and a community case involving a person in their 80s, according to the release.

Dr. Sean M. McTigue, medical director for pediatric infection prevention and control at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, said symptoms of pertussis in children, adolescents and adults first look like an upper respiratory infection, including nasal congestion, runny nose and possible fever, and then lead to a “very intense and prolonged cough.”

“The cough is characterized by prolonged coughing fits that typically end with a loud “whoop” when catching breath afterwards,” he said. “These coughing spells can be so intense that a patient may fracture ribs or rupture blood vessels in the eyes.”

The early symptoms of whooping cough can last for one to two weeks and the “coughing fits” usually last one to six weeks, but can last for up to 10 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People are contagious from the start of symptoms and for at least two weeks after the coughing begins, says the CDC.

“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,” said the release.

Some adults need vaccine boosters

While most of the Fayette County cases have been seen in adolescents, McTigue said, “Pertussis is more dangerous to young infants.”

“In young infants, pertussis more often presents with apnea,” a sleeep disorder, he said. “This means that the infant stops breathing for a period of time. This can be long enough to cause severe damage or death if not noticed promptly. For this reason it is extremely important that all infants be vaccinated against pertussis.”

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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