"Whooping cough" cases in Arkansas have more than doubled since last year

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, have doubled from this time last year in the state of Arkansas. So far this year, 342 people in the state have reported being infected with pertussis in comparison to just 141 last year.

The "whooping" sound that gives the illness its familiar name, is most common with infected infants - the sound of trying to catch one's breath while experiencing a severe coughing fit.

"They're the most serious candidates for a really deadly infection and hospitalization," commented Ed Barham, spokesperson for the Arkansas Health Department, regarding babies.

Illness severity in infants is mainly because those under two months of age aren't able to receive vaccines, and the parents or those caring for those infants may actually carry the infection and not even know it.

"An adult can have a persistent cough, the Chinese call it the '100 Days Cough,' and maybe not really be aware that it's pertussis," said Barham.

Symptoms of pertussis can start out much like the common cold. A runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough are characteristics of the infection, but after one to two weeks that cough can develop into a severe one.

Eighty percent of the national cases of pertussis occur in those from birth to 19 years of age, but Barham said it's those over the age of 19 that are the real issue.

"By far, the issue is that there is an adult vaccine that most people don't know about and it's something that is easy to get," said Barham.

The vaccine Barham referred to is called the tDap. It protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The shot is required for Arkansas students entering the 7th grade, but that requirement came into play just a few years ago. A dTap vaccine is also available for children at two months of age and is suggested by physicians.

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