Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
Causes & Symptoms
Pertussis, commonly called whooping cough, is a very contagious disease. It is caused by a bacterium (germ) that attacks the upper respiratory tract after entering the nose or throat. Pertussis is usually mild in older children and adults, but it can cause serious problems in very young children (i.e., infants under one year of age). Pertussis can be serious, especially for infants. It can cause breathing problems (apnea), pneumonia, and swelling of the brain (encephalopathy), which can lead to seizures and brain damage. Although rarely, pertussis can also cause death, especially in very young infants.
During the past few years, there has been an increase of pertussis cases in the United States. This has been reflected in the number of pertussis cases reported to the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department over the last six months. On average, four to five cases are reported each year. As of February 15, 2005, six cases had already been reported for 2005. And in the last six months, a total of 18 suspected cases have been reported. Though this increase is not alarming, it does emphasize the need to make sure that children are completely vaccinated to prevent pertussis.
Children should receive four doses of pertussis-containing vaccine by 18 months of age. A booster dose should be given between four and six years of age. Receiving all doses of the vaccine greatly reduces a child's risk of becoming ill with pertussis. Please visit the links below for more information on pertussis and the benefits of vaccination.