The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department (LLCHD) has received reports of 13 confirmed cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, since August 1. Early symptoms can last for one to two weeks and include a runny nose, low-grade fever and mild, occasional cough. Pertussis is most dangerous for babies, who may have apnea - a pause in the breathing pattern. About half of babies under one year of age who get the disease need care in the hospital.
The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated, especially for families with babies and those caring for babies. Tim Timmons, LLCHD Communicable Disease Program Supervisor, said babies and others at high risk for pertussis complications should be kept away from infected people.
Timmons said those in the early stages of pertussis may appear to have the common cold, so the disease is often not suspected until more severe symptoms appear. They include fits of coughing which may be followed by a high-pitched "whooping" sound, vomiting during or after coughing fits, and exhaustion after coughing fits. Coughing fits generally become worse and more common as the illness continues, and can occur more often at night.
Pertussis is highly contagious during the first two to three weeks of coughing. Antibiotics are used to treat both the infected individual and all household contacts, regardless of their immunization status. Like many respiratory illnesses, pertussis is spread by coughing and sneezing while in close contact with others. Officials recommend these good hygiene practices:
Timmons said the 13 cases included one child under age 2; three children age 3 to 5; one child age 6 to 12; six adolescents; and two adults over age 60. Eight of the 11 cases among adolescents and younger children were current on immunization for pertussis. Six cases developed symptoms in August, with five more in September and two more in October.
More information on disease prevention is available at health.lincoln.ne.gov.