A whooping cough outbreak in suburban Philly?

In June, California declared a whooping cough epidemic as cases surged to four times the normal number. Now a small increase in cases of the illness in suburban Philadelphia has prompted the Pennsylvania Department of Health to urge residents make sure their vaccinations are up to date.

In an article in The Inquirer Tuesday, my colleague Don Sapatkin wrote that there was no notable increase of the illness in Philadelphia (which requires booster shots for children entering 6th grade) or other parts of Pennsylvania or in New Jersey Still several suburban counties have seen a rise in the last two months. Here's some of what he wrote:

The significance of the increases - in Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, and in particular, Delaware Counties - is not clear. Although the short-term trend is up, health officials in some of the counties said the numbers this year were not much different from the same period last year. ...

… [A] few outbreaks of whooping cough, known medically as pertussis, have been reported around the country this year. By far the biggest is in California, where state health officials counted 3,076 confirmed and suspected cases through last Tuesday, a number seven times higher than the same period last year. Eight infants have died.

No one is known to have died in Southeastern Pennsylvania. But the potential danger to infants who have not yet developed immunity - the vaccine is given in a series of shots at months 2, 4, 6, and 15 to 18, with a booster at 4 to 6 years - prompted the state's announcement Monday. ...

… Pertussis is a highly communicable disease that can last for weeks and in children typically cause spasms of severe coughing, "whooping," and vomiting.

After an incubation that most often is seven to 10 days but can be much shorter or longer, the illness first shows up as a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever, and occasionally, a cough that is similar to that of a cold, according to a state health department advisory.

It usually is not diagnosed until a week or so later, after the cough gradually becomes more severe; difficulty breathing in after uncontrolled coughing can cause a telltale high-pitched whoop.

The symptoms often worsen for one to two weeks and then continue for several weeks before subsiding.
Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics.

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