Cases of whooping cough have spiked in Louisville.
According to the Department of Public Health and Wellness, there were 62 cases in 2018 in Louisville, that's compared to 27 in 2017. Of those cases, 16 were in the last two months of the year.
“We recommend that physicians test for whooping cough in patients who have a cough that persists for two weeks or more,” said Dr. Lori Caloia, medical director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.
Whooping cough, also medically known as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection. Deve Collins-Frias runs Our Angels Child Care Center and has seen cases of whooping cough, including in her own daughter when she was under 10 years-old.
“It was pretty bad. So she had a fever and just the cough by itself is horrible,” Collins-Frias said.
It has caused her to be hyper-aware of the infection, always looking out for an unusual cough in the kids at her daycare. She informs her staff every time there is a spike in medical concerns that she learns about from the health department. It’s not just illnesses though, but germs. Collins-Frias has her children carry their own individual bags and have individual cubbies.
“It’s a health reason really so that kids won't catch germs, so we kind of eliminate it so they have their own little space,” Collins-Frias said.
She even requires the kids to have their whooping cough immunizations, which is something schools also require students to have. That’s what makes this spike of whooping cough interesting to the health department.
"We're seeing it in a lot of school-aged children which is interesting because they're all required to be vaccinated for school,” Dr. Caloia said.
But the Health Department says it’s not surprised a spike in cases is happening right now. The last major spike was in 2012, which means many people had gotten their immunizations back then.
"That vaccine you know if it lasts 3 to 4 years is starting to wane for the people that were vaccinated so this is kind of the sweet spot for where we'd expect to see the disease numbers going back up again,” Dr. Caloia said.
Dr. Jill Howell Berg is a pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Associates in Clarksville, Ind. She said she has not seen any confirmed cases herself so far this year but has tested many kids for it recently.
She theorizes one likely cause behind the spike in cases right now.
"How contagious this illness is and how hard it is to recognize quickly that you don’t think of it necessarily first when it’s flu season and it’s RSV season,” Dr. Howell Berg said.
Both Dr. Howell Berg and the Louisville Metro Health Dept. said anyone who may come in contact with young children or infants can be at risk of the infection, including adolescents, adults and the elderly.
“Even if parents, grandparents and caregivers have been immunized against whooping cough as children,” said Dr. Caloia, “immunity can wear off over time. Parents, grandparents and caregivers can then infect young children. We recommend that they receive a one-time dose of adolescent/adult tetanus-diphtheria-acellular (Tdap) vaccine if they have not already done so,” said Caloia.
Some signs parents should look out for include a hoarse, severe cough that gets worse over time. Although, the cough could be minimal or non-existent in infants. But they may also display apnea, a pause in breathing, or even turn blue in some cases. According to the health department, about half of infants younger than 1 year who get the disease need hospital care.
The childhood vaccine is called DTaP. The whooping cough booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap. Both vaccines protect against whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria.
The health department advises that infants should receive a series of DTaP immunizations at ages 2, 4, and 6 months old, with boosters at ages 15-18 months and at 4-6 years old. It recommends that children also get a single dose of Tdap vaccine at 11 to 12 years old
Pregnant women should receive a single dose of Tdap during every pregnancy, preferably at 27 through 36 weeks.
The health department encourages parents to check with their physicians to see if their child has been immunized against whooping cough. Parents who do not have health insurance should contact the Department of Public Health and Wellness at 574-6520.