The Eastern Shore Health District urges all of its residents to stay current on their immunizations, in order to protect those in our community who are the most vulnerable to serious illness and death caused by Pertussis (Whooping Cough).
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease spread from person to person by coughing and sneezing. It is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Illness typically starts like a cold, with a runny nose, sneezing and mild cough. The cough lasts 1-2 weeks and then worsens, occurring in fits, sometimes followed by a whooping noise, gagging, or vomiting (but not in every case). The disease can be very serious in children less than 1 year of age, in whom it can cause lung infections and, less often, seizures or inflammation of the brain. In rare cases, Pertussis can result in death, especially in infants. In 2013, more than 24,000 cases were reported in the United States, resulting in 9 deaths (all deaths were among infants under the age of 3 months); 411 cases were confirmed in 2013 in the state of Virginia.
"The single most effective way to prevent Pertussis is vaccination," said David O. Matson, MD PhD, director of the Eastern Shore Health District. Protection from childhood vaccine wears off over time, generally in five to ten years, so teens and adults should be revaccinated. Unfortunately, many teens and adults unknowingly carry the bacteria without symptoms or have mild illness because their first vaccine doses at a young age protect them from serious disease, but not from carrying the bacteria and not from spreading Pertussis. They are often the source of infection for infants too young to be protected by vaccination. All parents, siblings, grandparents, and caregivers of infants should make sure their Pertussis vaccine is current, to help protect the vulnerable infant population. It also should be emphasized that anyone who works with infants, whether in healthcare, daycare or nurseries, such as church nurseries, must be up-to-date for their vaccines received.
Anyone experiencing Pertussis symptoms is urged to voluntarily isolate themselves at home and as soon as possible call their primary care physician, in order for the physician to assess them and to begin a treatment of an appropriate antibiotic, should their physician decide to prescribe an antibiotic. Close contacts of patients with Pertussis will also be treated, in order to prevent the additional spread of disease in the community.