November 16, 2006
Charlotte, NC – The Mecklenburg County Health Department has notified physicians, schools, and the public in general after an unusually high number of pertussis cases have been reported in recent weeks.
This alert comes as diagnosed cases of pertussis (or whooping cough) have more than doubled this year in North Carolina and increased substantially around the country. In Mecklenburg County, at least 20 cases have been reported during the past month. The normal average is 1 - 3 cases per month.
Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease. It attacks the lining of the breathing passages, producing severe inflammation and narrowing of the airways. Severe coughing and shortness of breath are prominent symptoms, along with a whooping sound when coughing. The intense coughing scatters the pertussis bacteria into the air, spreading the disease to other susceptible persons. Exposure is one of the biggest worries due to the fact that whooping cough can be fatal in infants and the elderly.
Medical Director Dr. Stephen Keener has sent notices to healthcare providers and emergency rooms across Mecklenburg County asking doctors and healthcare workers to be aware of the outbreak, look to test for pertussis, treat the patient and their contacts, and report any cases to the Health Department.
Concurrently, letters have been sent to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to be distributed to every student, parent and staff member explaining whooping cough and asking that everyone be alert for the signs and symptoms. If a student should exhibit any of these symptoms, they are asked to take the letter to their doctor immediately.
While most children are vaccinated against pertussis, scientists have learned that protection wanes significantly within ten years. Consequently, teenagers who got the standard series of DPT shots as babies may once again be susceptible. This was the basis for development of a new "Tdap" booster shot to protect adolescents and adults against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that everyone between the ages of 11 and 64 receive the new vaccine.
After exposure to whooping cough, symptoms may begin within 6-20 days and the cough can last for months. Infected persons are contagious for about three weeks after the onset of spasmodic cough if not treated with the appropriate antibiotic.
Symptoms of whooping cough include:
· For the first week or two, symptoms are the same as a cold: runny nose, low-grade fever, watery eyes, and a mild cough which worsens gradually.
· Within one to two weeks, the coughing episodes may become spasmodic (sudden fits of coughing and a whoop may be heard (a high-pitched noise heard on breathing in during coughing fits).
· Vomiting may occur after a coughing episode.
To help prevent the spread of pertussis:
· Get your young child fully immunized with the DTaP vaccine.
· Be sure to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
· Wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of the disease.
· Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes when you are sick.
· If you are diagnosed with pertussis, make certain all household members and close contacts get medication to prevent the spread of the illness.
Please see your physician to obtain the new Tdap pertussis booster shot. If you do not have a primary care doctor, you can get the vaccine through the Mecklenburg County Health Department. The appointment line number is