The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) is reporting a spike in pertussis, or whooping cough, cases across the state. IDPH Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, says 154 people with pertussis have been reported so far in 2012.
That’s a 121% increase over the number of cases reported at this time last year. “We’re not quite sure why, but we know pertussis goes in cycles,” Quinlisk said. “So, every three, four or five years, we see the number of cases go up and then go back down. One of the ways we can make it so it doesn’t go back up is making sure everybody is vaccinated.”
Infants receive a whooping cough vaccine beginning at two months of age, but Quinlisk recommends children get a booster dose at 11 or 12 years of age. Adults who haven’t had a pertussis vaccination since childhood should also consider the booster.
“What that does is it increases your amount of protection to pertussis, lowers your risk of getting pertussis and spreading it on to anybody else,” Quinlisk said. Children between the ages of 5 to 14 years make up the bulk of the reported cases in Iowa, although adults are considered the primary “spreaders” of the disease.
Adults may not realize they have whooping cough because their symptoms are milder. For that reason, Quinlisk believes the actual number of pertussis cases is much higher than 154. “I would guess for every case that does get reported, there’s probably at least 10 more cases out there that don’t get reported to us,” Quinlisk said.
“Our real number is probably well over 1,000…maybe 2,000 to 3,000.” Of the 154 confirmed cases in Iowa so far this year, 58 cases are from Scott County and 22 are from Polk County. Quinlisk said adults may not see a doctor about a lingering cough, until it becomes so bad that they vomit.
“If you are coughing like that, especially if you have a fever or something with it, try to stay away from other people,” Quinlisk said. “Because if you do have whooping cough, you don’t want to spread it to anybody else – especially little children.”
Quinlisk notes it’s especially important that adults who are around children to receive the pertussis-containing vaccine because they can spread the disease to infants and young children who are too young to be fully immunized.