2010-09-02 / Local & State

Caution Urged As Pa. Sees More Whooping Cough

By Jennifer C. Yates

PITTSBURGH (AP) – State officials are encouraging parents to make sure their children’s immunizations are up-to-date as school starts amid an increase in the reported cases of whooping cough.

Most Americans are vaccinated for whooping cough, but the protection the vaccine offers weakens over time and children and adults can easily spread the highly contagious disease, experts said Thursday. Several states, including South Dakota, Iowa and California, have reported increases in cases.

“It’s really the school-age kids that are spreading it and can bring it home to their infant siblings. So those are the kids we can really capture to make sure their immunizations are up to date,’’ said Dr. Judy Martin, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Earlier this month, state health officials put out a health advisory warning that there had been an uptick in whooping cough cases since April, especially in the Philadelphia suburbs. The state announced this week that it was offering several free vaccine clinics in York and Delaware counties to encourage residents to keep their vaccines for the disease up to date.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious disease caused by a bacteria. It often starts with a sore throat and progresses to severe coughing that can be accompanied by a “whooping’’ sound. Some children cough so much that they throw up, and the disease can be particularly dangerous for infants.

In California, seven babies have died this year because of a statewide whooping cough epidemic. More than 3,000 cases have been reported in the state this year, a seven-fold increase from the number of cases reported in the same period last year.

The numbers in Pennsylvania aren’t as alarming. The state usually sees between 200 to 600 reports of whooping cough every year; 495 cases were reported in 2008, 615 cases in 2009 and about 330 cases have been reported so far this year.

“There are probably many more cases of pertussis than indicated by the reported numbers,’’ said Holli Senor, a state health spokeswoman. Not every case gets reported to the state, and many people who get whooping cough get better without seeking treatment.

“The biggest thing that we can do is to immunize to prevent the spread,’’ she said. “A child who is not immunized, if it’s in their classroom, has a pretty good chance of getting it.’’

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