Whooping cough cases increasing statewide
Pertussis cases 2005-12
Updated: August 24, 2012 7:50AM
Elaine Rosenfeld finds the hospitalization of young children this year due to an increase in whooping cough cases frustrating.
She is the director of pediatric-infectious disease at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, and although she hasn’t witnessed any recent fatalities due to the respiratory disease, the loss of infant patients in the past is unacceptable, she said.
“There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that any baby should die when we have a readily available vaccine for pertussis,” Rosenfeld said.
Pertussis, the medical term for whooping cough, is a highly-contagious disease characterized by uncontrollable spats of violent coughing.
Like most areas throughout the country, suburban Cook County is experiencing a surge in the number of pertussis cases at a rate expected to trump last year’s decade-high of 280 cases.
The Cook County Department of Public Health has received 336 reports of whooping cough between January and Aug. 15 of this year, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Chicago, Evanston, Oak Park, Skokie and Stickney Township collect their own data on diseases and are not included in those figures.
Sandy Martell, the interim chief operating officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, said the large number of whooping cough cases recorded in the suburban north reflects the area’s more dense populations.
Across the board, most of the reported ill are older children 10 to 14 years old, followed by 5 through 9 year olds, she said.
Communicable disease specialist Margaret Keeler said the Evanston Health Department often sees a spike in pertussis cases following summer travels and the return to school.
Health officials and medical professionals attribute its rise to a variety of factors — including better awareness and thus increased diagnoses of the disease during the past decade.
The waning effectiveness of the pertussis vaccine, particularly in children who received the shot between the ages of 4 and 6, has also contributed to a spike in reported cases.
According to the IDPH, whooping cough is caused by a germ residing in the mouth, nose and throat that is easily spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing.
Its symptoms initially mimic those of a common cold — a runny nose and slight fever accompanied by an occasional cough — but increase in severity after one to two weeks.
Rough, spasmodic coughing fits, followed by the high-pitched “whoop” sound, may cause the infected person to turn blue, vomit and become exhausted, according to the IDPH.
Although most children and adults are able to recover from pertussis with an antibiotic, it could prove fatal to vulnerable populations that lack immunity, particularly babies under 1.
Martell said the three basic premises for preventing the spread of a respiratory disease like whooping cough are immunization, isolation, and simple hygiene habits like covering a cough and frequent hand-washing.
To further curb the spread of the disease, the state now is requiring those entering sixth and ninth grades to receive a booster dose.
And while parents may be focused on good attendance when students head back to school this month, Martell said it is more important to keep kids home if they show signs of pertussis.
“Sick children do not learn well,” she said.
Health services coordinator Robin Olson said East Maine School District 63 had one pertussis report last year.
She said the district is strict about its immunization policy and wellness program in part because of a sizable population of students who travel to or are exposed to people from outside the U.S.
The kindergarten through eighth-grade school district enrolls approximately 3,600 students.
Martell said getting children and adults caught up on pertussis booster shots is a key component to ensuring the disease doesn’t continue to affect vulnerable populations.
“We will always have an unprotected infant population,” Martell said. “We need to cocoon around those who cannot be vaccinated by those who are.”