Durham health officials urge shots to prevent whooping cough

Sep. 13, 2013 @ 06:25 PM

As the number of whooping cough cases grows in parts of North Carolina and becomes epidemic in Texas and other states, Durham health officials are urging residents to get vaccinated to prevent the potentially deadly disease.

Durham has dodged the bullet so far, with just 16 confirmed cases from July 2012 to July 2013, according to Susan Thompson, a registered nurse and communicable-disease program manager at the Durham County Department of Public Health.

Thompson said none of the 16 Durham cases was fatal. The majority of outbreaks were in children 5 to 14 years old.

“Pertussis [whooping cough] is a very contagious disease only found in humans and is spread from person to person,” Thompson said. “People with pertussis usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others.”

Thompson said many infants who get pertussis are infected by older siblings, parents or caregivers who might not know they have the disease.  Symptoms include runny nose, low-grade fever and mild, occasional cough.  Symptoms usually develop within seven to 10 days after being exposed, but sometimes not for up to six weeks.

Because pertussis in its early stages appears to be a common cold, it’s often not suspected or diagnosed until more severe symptoms appear, Thompson said. Infected people are most contagious up to about two weeks after the cough begins. Antibiotics may shorten the length of time someone is contagious.

As the disease progresses, traditional symptoms of pertussis appear and include:

-- Fits of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop”.

-- Vomiting.

-- Exhaustion after coughing fits.

Thompson said coughing can last 10 weeks or more. Although victims are often exhausted after a coughing fit, they usually appear fairly well in-between. Coughing fits generally become more common and severe as the illness continues, and can occur more often at night.

Vaccines are available for infants, children, preteens, teens and adults. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP, and the pertussis booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap. North Carolina  law requires that kindergartners and all rising sixth-graders be up to date on pertussis vaccination before going to school.

The health department provides pertussis vaccinations, as well as all other childhood and adult vaccines, by appointment and on a walk-in basis each weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 pm. 

Contact the Durham County Department of Public Health’s immunization clinic at 919-560-7608.