HANCOCK - Pertussis is one of those diseases for which children are immunized soon after birth, but if they stop getting boosters for those immunizations, they become susceptible to the very contagious disease.
Terry Frankovich, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department medical director, said that in April, eight cases of pertussis were confirmed in the health department's coverage area of Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties. As of Wednesday, there were 34 confirmed cases.
That number of confirmed cases constitutes an outbreak of pertussis, and as a result, Frankovich has sent out notices to local doctors to watch out for it in their patients.
Frankovich said pertussis, which is also called whooping cough because of the sound those with the disease make during coughing fits, can seem to be something else early in the onset.
"It does start like a cold," she said. "For the first couple of weeks, people think they have a really bad cold."
The disease can last six to 10 weeks, Frankovich said. It's spread through the coughing and sneezing of those infected.
"It does start like a cold. For the first couple of weeks, people think they have a really bad cold."
- Terry Frankovich,
Western U.P. Health Department
Children are supposed to be vaccinated against pertussis at 2, 4 and 6 months, then again at 12 to 15 months of age. Booster shots should be given to children at 11 years old.
Beginning for the upcoming school year in the fall, Frankovich said all children entering sixth grade will be required to get a booster shot.
"We know immunity drops then," she said.
Frankovich said the booster will be required as well for all children transferring to a new school.
"Early antibiotics can decrease the contagiousness of the disease and limit its spread through the community," she said.
Pertussis, in most cases, begins with mild upper respiratory symptoms, including runny nose and mild cough, but usually no fever is present. If untreated, the cough can become more severe and lead to vomiting. The whooping sound made by sufferers is made when they try to take a breath between spasms. In older children and adults the coughing fits can lead to pneumonia and rib fractures. Infants and children less than 6 months old are most at risk for pneumonia, seizures and, in rare cases, death.
"We particularly worry about infants," Frankovich said.
Because the disease is so contagious, Frankovich said as soon as it's confirmed in a household, all those in the household must receive the booster shots.
Frankovich said the mortality rate for infants less than two months old acquiring pertussis is one in 100. However, there have been no local deaths resulting from the most recent outbreak.
There have been outbreaks of pertussis in other parts of the state recently, but Frankovich said it's unknown where it started locally.
"When pertussis emerges in a community, it's often in the older kids," she said.
Frankovich said it's important parents check with their health care providers to make certain all pertussis immunizations are up to date in their family