DHEC notes statewide increase in pertussis infections

Press Release - Pertussis infections, also known as whooping cough, continue to rise in South Carolina, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control reported Thursday.

"Infants under a year old are the most vulnerable and can develop serious complications or even die from pertussis," said Jerry Gibson, M.D., chief of DHEC's Bureau of Disease Control. "As of June 30, we've received 168 reports of pertussis. During the same time period in 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006, there were 114, 62, 42 and 78 reports of pertussis, respectively.

"Pertussis is very contagious and usually starts with cold symptoms, such as runny nose, sneezing and a mild cough lasting for one to two weeks. A fever is rare," Dr. Gibson said. "These symptoms often are followed by weeks to months of severe coughing spells that might be associated with vomiting and a 'whoop' sound that occurs when trying to breathe in after a coughing spell."

Dr. Gibson said most infants catch pertussis from a parent or other family members. A series of shots given during infancy and childhood can safely prevent pertussis, but protection wears off in 5-10 years, making older children, teens and adults more likely to contract the infection.

"To help protect vulnerable infants, their household members and caregivers, including daycare workers and healthcare workers, are a high priority for vaccination and should get the pertussis booster shot (known as Tdap) right away," Dr. Gibson said. "Women should get the booster shot before becoming pregnant, but they can also receive it during pregnancy or after giving birth. We encourage hospitals to vaccinate new mothers and fathers before sending newborns home."

According to Dr. Gibson, everyone between the ages of 10 and 64 should be vaccinated against pertussis. Talk to your healthcare provider now to be sure you and your family are protected. Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the spread of pertussis.

Dr. Gibson said some people with pertussis might not feel very sick and might not develop the coughing spells or 'whoop,' but they are still able to pass the infection to others.

"Seeking treatment when pertussis symptoms first start is important. If you or a family member are ill and worried about pertussis or have been exposed to someone with pertussis, contact your healthcare provider," Dr. Gibson said. "Antibiotics can help prevent spreading the disease to people who have spent a lot of time around the infected person and are necessary to stop the spread of pertussis."

For more information about pertussis and pertussis vaccination, visit DHEC's website at: