Whooping Cough Hits Buncombe County

May 22, 2018

Health officials have confirmed four cases of pertussis, (whooping cough) in Buncombe County. Three other cases have been identified, which health officials say are connected to the four lab-confirmed cases.           BPR's Helen Chickering spoke with Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services medical director Dr. Jennifer Mullendore about pertussis, the cases and what health officials are doing to help stop the respiratory illness from spreading.  

Here’s more from Buncombe County Health and Human Services:  

Buncombe County Health and Human Services (BCHHS) urges residents and medical providers to take pertussis seriously as it can spread rapidly in school, work and healthcare environments.

Pertussis is an infection that affects the upper airways and is easily spread from person-to-person by coughing or sneezing. Anyone can get pertussis, but it is especially dangerous and can even be deadly for babies. About 50% of all infants younger than one year of age who get pertussis are hospitalized. Most people who die from whooping cough are infants that are too young to be fully immunized.

At first, symptoms are typically like those of the common cold, including:

• Runny nose;

• Low-grade fever; and

• Mild, occasional cough.

• Infants may have a pause in their breathing, known as apnea.

After one to two weeks, symptoms can worsen to include:

• Severe coughing fits or spells, followed by a high-pitched "whoop" sound when a breath is taken;

• Vomiting (throwing-up) after coughing fits, especially in young children; and

• Exhaustion (feeling very tired) after coughing fits.

• The illness can be less severe and the typical "whoop" can be absent in teens and adults, especially those who have been immunized against pertussis.

Three simple steps can provide a shield of protection for individuals and their loved ones against pertussis and other deadly preventable diseases.

Step 1: Get Immunized

The best way to prevent pertussis is to get immunized. DTaP is the immunization given to infants and children starting at 2 months of age. Because young children are not adequately protected against pertussis until they have received at least three doses of DTaP, it is also especially important that family members, caregivers of infants, and members in our community are immunized against pertussis. Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations, Buncombe County Medical Director Dr. Jennifer Mullendore strongly recommends a one-time Tdap booster for preteens, teens and adults. It is also recommended that all women receive a Tdap booster in the third trimester of each pregnancy, regardless of whether they were already immunized.

By staying up-to-date on immunizations, individuals provide a shield of protection not only for themselves and their loved ones but also for vulnerable populations like infants and small children, those with pre-existing health conditions, and the elderly by reducing the likelihood of spreading preventable communicable diseases like pertussis.

Getting immunized is easy! You can get the Tdap vaccination from your healthcare provider or from the BCHHS Immunization Clinic. Our Buncombe County Health and Human Services Immunization Clinic is located at 53 South French Broad Avenue in downtown Asheville (across the street from United Way). Our Immunization Clinic offers walk-in immunizations between the hours of 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Monday-Friday; we ask that patients check-in by 4:30 p.m.)

Step 2: Practice Good Health Habits

Practicing good health habits, like frequent handwashing or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers and covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, can help prevent the spread of pertussis and other illnesses.

Step 3: Sick with symptoms of pertussis? See your Health Care Provider

Early diagnosis and treatment of pertussis is very important to prevent spread of the infection. Anyone with symptoms of pertussis should stay home from school, work or other group activities and make an appointment with their doctor. Contact your health care provider if you or your child has symptoms of pertussis. Sometimes antibiotics are given to people who have been exposed to pertussis even if they don’t have symptoms. This is done to protect babies and other vulnerable people from the illness.

Visit www.buncombecounty.org/immunize for more information on immunizations.