Local health district investigates 3 whooping cough cases

Published: Jul. 10, 2019 at 3:46 PM CDT
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The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District announced Wednesday it's investigating three cases of pertussis, which is commonly known as whooping cough.

Due to privacy laws, health district officials wouldn't release many details except that children are involved, and while they're not from the same family they do share a common connection.

"We do an investigation with each person that's sick, or their family, and find out where they've been to see if there's any potential spreading or any other cases like that," said Kelly Craine, Public Health Information Specialist with the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.

Pertussis can cause a severe cough that may last for weeks or months and can lead to coughing fits or vomiting.

"People can cough hard enough to break ribs, so very severe cough," said Dr. Priya Srinivasan, a pediatrician with Baylor Scott & White Health. "In younger children they may not make that 'whooping' sound, but you will have a very severe persistent cough, they may stop breathing, vomit, trouble feeding because of the cough, and that stage can go on for up to three months."

The disease can be tricky to diagnose at first because it starts out with symptoms similar to a common cold like coughing and fever.

"It doesn't always present itself as obvious," said Craine. "But within two weeks, that cough is going to move to an extreme cough."

Anyone can get it, but it is particularly dangerous for babies, pregnant women, and older people with weakened immune systems.

"What's scary to us (doctors) is basically with the younger infants, they can actually stop breathing," said Srinivasan. "There have been cases of young infants who are too young be vaccinated catching this--they can die, potentially, from the disease."

There were only two confirmed cases of pertussis in McLennan County in all of 2018, officials said, and they were unrelated.

"Unfortunately, with the increased skepticism toward vaccines, it's going up a little bit," said Srinivasan.

Health experts say vaccination is the best protection against getting it and spreading it.

"The way you protect yourself: one of course is to wash your hands, cover your cough, those are good ways to do that, also to be fully vaccinated," said Craine. "Vaccination is so important because our infants, they don't get their first vaccination until three-months, and you're not fully protected until 15-months because it's a series of shots, and so for all those little ones that are not fully protected, we as adults must be vaccinated as well."

Srinivasan agreed.

"If everybody gets vaccinated, then the incidence of the disease goes down and there's not much risk of anybody catching it if nobody can actually spread the disease," she said.

If caught in time by a doctor doing a nasal swab or blood test, the disease can be treated with antibiotics.