September 17, 2014

Medical director says at least five cases of pertussis confirmed in county

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ARENAC COUNTY — Dr. Robert Graham typically sees a case of pertussis once every two or three months. In recent weeks, he said there have been at least five confirmed cases in Arenac County alone.

Graham, the medical director for the Central Michigan District Health Department as well as other health departments, serves 19 counties. Graham said the increase in reports of pertussis, or whooping cough, is indicative of all the regions he serves.

“I cover 19 counties in Michigan, and it just seems like every day I hear about a new case somewhere in those 19 counties,” he said.

Potential pertussis cases are confirmed in one of two ways, Graham said.

“We count cases that are confirmed by lab tests, and we also count cases that are close household contacts of a known case,” he said.

“This is going on this summer,” Graham said. “There’s been a lot of pertussis going around, but there’s a lot more going around it seems like in the last six weeks.”

The five confirmed cases in Arenac County have come within the last six weeks, and Graham said several of the confirmations were children who were not vaccinated.

“There are a couple of reasons for it, I believe,” he said. “At least half of the people we’ve had reported cases of were unvaccinated. The parents did not want their kid to have any vaccines or maybe the kid has been under-vaccinated. They got two shots instead of four.”

Immunity from the vaccine is reduced over time, but Graham said the vaccination tends to keep pertussis in check even when immunity starts to decrease.

“When we do see it in a person who has been vaccinated, the case is usually a lot milder,” he said.

Whooping cough can be contracted by people of any age, and is especially dangerous when contracted by children six months old or younger, Graham said. It can be fatal, but thus far none of the confirmed cases in areas where Graham works have caused a death.

“Knock on wood, we haven’t had any fatalities, but we have had kids hospitalized from it,” he said.

Pertussis is usually spread through respiratory droplets — a person coughing and another person breathing in those respiratory droplets, Graham said. It can also be spread through sharing drinks, he said. While a vaccine can prevent many cases of it, early treatment in a person exposed to pertussis is vital, Graham said.

“The vaccine will prevent most cases of it, but early treatment is very important, because once the damage occurs, it’s going to take a long time to repair,” he said. “So if somebody is exposed to a known case of pertussis, they should seek treatment right away, especially if they’re not vaccinated.”

The symptoms of whooping cough usually come in three phases, according to Graham.

“The first phase, there might be a low-grade fever, runny nose, sore throat, watery eyes,” he said. “Then a cough starts to develop, then you develop this chronic cough. During that phase, the whooping cough — that’s where it gets its name, because you cough and you’re trying to bring in air against a swollen airway, and that causes a whoop.”

Graham said the pertussis germ destroys the lining of the lungs and can take up to 12 weeks to heal.

For more information on pertussis, contact the Central Michigan District Health Department at 989-846-6541.

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