As pertussis cases continue to rise, Dr. Joshua Septimus is working to educate his patients about the dangers of the disease.
“Patients often think that, as adults, “whooping cough” is a disease of days past,” said Dr. Septimus. “In fact, this disease has been raging through the adult and adolescent population, necessitating the development of an adult vaccine for the disease.”
While many may associate pertussis with infants, Dr. Septimus warns that they are not the only group at risk.
“As the epidemiology of whooping cough has moved from childhood to adults, new at-risk populations have emerged,” said Dr. Septimus. “Asthmatics, patients with chronic lung disease and especially newborns exposed by their parents, grandparents and other family members are at risk.”
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the onset of pertussis can be gradual and the disease itself can last for a number of weeks. Symptoms may mimic that of the flu, but whereas the average flu-sufferer can expect to get better in a couple of weeks, someone with pertussis will develop a severe cough.
Pertussis is nicknamed “whooping cough” because patients will often cough until they are out of air and are forced to inhale, creating a whooping sound. The coughing may become so violent that people suffering from the disease will vomit during a coughing fit.
If pertussis causes this kind of reaction in adults, imagine an infant’s tiny body wracked with powerful coughs and the toll that their desperate attempts to regain their breath must take. Infants are also more likely to suffer deadly side-effects of the disease. Pneumonia, apnea (delayed or stopped breathing) and encephalopathy (disease of the brain) are just a few of the dangerous and often times deadly effects of pertussis in infants.
In 2010 the CDC reported more than 20,000 cases of pertussis. Of those cases 25% of them were in children under the age of seven.
“In San Diego, here in the United States, a fatal outbreak of the disease sickened many and KILLED several newborns,” said Dr. Septimus. “I think I have talked until I am blue in the face about vaccinating against whooping cough to my patients who are expecting children and grandchildren. Please talk to your doctor about getting the whooping cough vaccine!”
For more information about pertussis and the recommended vaccinations against the disease, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/index.html,
Dr. Joshua Septimus is a clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical School and Baylor College of Medicine.