NMC Commentary

Is Whooping Cough Active in Our Community?

Yes, there have been cases of Whooping cough (also known as Pertussis) in our community.  While many people have heard the name of the disease, many have questions about what it is and what actions to take.  Fortunately, the Vermont Department of Health’s website provides extensive information on it.  In the interest of better health, I would like to share some of that information with you here.

Whooping cough “is a highly contagious respiratory disease … known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths which result in a ‘whooping’ sound.”

“Who can get it?  People of all ages can get whooping cough.”  It “can be very serious, especially for babies and young kids. Babies can get whooping cough from an adult or family member who may not even know they are sick with whooping cough. Babies who get whooping cough are often hospitalized and could die. Whooping cough can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death. Less serious illness can occur in older children and in those who have been vaccinated.”

“What are the symptoms?  Children and others with whooping cough can have severe coughing spells that make it hard to eat, drink, breathe, or sleep. Sometimes they cough and then gag or make a “whooping” sound when breathing in. This sound is how the disease got its name. Babies younger than 6 months may or may not cough. Instead, they may have gagging or life-threatening pauses in breathing or struggle to breathe. Some babies may turn blue because they don’t get enough oxygen and can’t catch their breath. Older kids and adults may just have a bad cough that lasts for multiple weeks.”

“How does it spread?  You can get whooping cough from breathing in pertussis bacteria. This germ comes out of the mouth and nose when someone who has whooping cough sneezes or coughs.”

“How is it treated? Whooping cough is generally treated with antibiotics (a medicine to kill germs in the body). It’s important to start taking the medicine as soon as possible to slow the spread of the disease. Early treatment may also make the symptoms less severe.”

“How is it prevented? Getting vaccinated is the best way to stop the spread of whooping cough. Using good health manners also helps slow the spread of whooping cough—wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay home when you’re sick.”

“What is the whooping cough vaccine? There are two vaccines for whooping cough: DTaP is for babies and children through age six. Tdap is for kids seven years and older, adolescents, and adults.”

“Who needs the vaccine? The whooping cough vaccine is important for people of all ages. If you aren’t vaccinated, you aren’t protected. If you aren’t protected, you may put vulnerable babies at risk.”

“What should I do if I have a cough? If you have symptoms, such as a cough and fever, stay away from babies, pregnant women and people who are at higher risk for getting whooping cough until you have been seen by a health care provider.”

“What should I do if I think someone in my family has whooping cough? If you think you or one of your family members has whooping cough, call your health care provider. Try to stay away from other people until the illness is evaluated. Whooping cough is a possibility if someone has a bad cough, especially if it lasts longer than two weeks, or if the coughing happens in spells followed by gagging or difficulty catching the breath.”

Your health is not something to take for granted and a serious cough is not something to be ignored. If you have concerns about your health, please speak to your primary care provider or Pediatrician. If you need help finding a provider, please call NMC Community Relations at 524-1280 and our staff will assist you in making a connection.  The holidays are no time to be sick, so please, invest in your health and the health of those around you and be well!

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer