For Immediate Release
July 31, 2009

KDHE Office of Communications, 785-296-0461

Rise in pertussis cases seen in two Kansas counties

A spike in pertussis cases has been reported in Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). Since June, 20 cases of the disease – which is also known as whooping cough – have been reported in the two counties, including one case in a child that resulted in hospitalization.

The age range of the cases was from 1 month to 49 years.

Pertussis is a bacterial disease that is easily transmitted from person to person through talking, sneezing or coughing.  It can be a very serious illness, especially for young infants.

During the first one to two weeks, persons with whooping cough may only experience a runny nose and non-productive cough, similar to a cold. Young children may have more serious coughing fits, often followed by a whooping sound as they try to catch their breath.  Coughing spells may continue for several weeks or months.

Although whooping cough is often thought of as a childhood disease, whooping cough can occur among persons of any age.  Adults and children seven years of age and older who get whooping cough may have only a prolonged cough.

“Anyone with an unexplained acute cough illness or who has had close contact to a person with whooping cough should contact their health care provider,” said Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, State Health Officer and Director of Health at KDHE.

“Early diagnosis and treatment can shorten the contagious period, and antibiotics should be prescribed to all household and other close contacts to prevent spread of the disease,” he added.

The single most effective control measure for pertussis is immunization, which is recommended at two, four, six and 12 months of age with a booster dose at kindergarten entry.  Another booster is recommended for everyone 11 years through 64 years of age as part of the tetanus shot.

Of the 20 cases reported in the two counties, at least eight had not completed the full vaccine series.

“It is critical that children, as well as their parents, get vaccinated for pertussis to prevent this difficult and highly contagious illness, which can be easily spread to other family members and community members,” Dr. Eberhart-Phillips said. “This should help reduce the number of cases in children who are too young to be vaccinated.”

Parents in the two counties are advised to keep infants, especially those less than six months of age, away from persons with a cough illness because infants are more likely to experience severe illness or death if they develop whooping cough. 

For more information on whooping cough, contact your local health department or KDHE at 1-877-427-7317.