Indiana health officials investigate increase in whooping cough cases

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File photo.

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana health officials investigating a surge in whooping cough cases are urging Hoosiers to take precautions to avoid the highly contagious bacterial infection.

The Indiana State Department of Health said Thursday that it’s confirmed 136 cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, during the first half of 2017. That’s more than double the 66 cases recorded during the same period last year.

State health officials are encouraging parents to look for sings and symptoms of whooping cough, as it is most prevalent in children and highly contagious if not vaccinated.

“During the first part of it, it looks like just a mild illness like a cold or something, but then it develops into more fits of coughing,” said ISDH Outbreak Supervisor, Shawn Richards. She added, “once you start the coughing fits, you may be into the coughing for several months.”

While pertussis can be treated with antibiotics, it can be prevented with two safe and effective vaccines: DTaP for children under 7 years old and Tdap for children and adults over 10 years old.

Pertussis immunity begins to decrease over time, but adding a pertussis booster dose to the routine vaccination schedule for children 11 to 12 years old can provide further protection.

An antibiotic can be prescribed, but generally only prevents against the transmission of the illness. State health officials said they are working with schools and nurses to make sure they are prepared to handle the increase in cases as kids head back to school.

“Right now is the beginning of school for most kids, so there probably is a little more cleaning that has been done, so it’s a relatively good environment right now,” Richards said.

Women are urged to get one dose of Tdap during each pregnancy to protect infants before they can be vaccinated. In addition, fathers, grandparents and anyone caring for young children should make sure they are fully immunized against pertussis to prevent spreading this illness.

“Pertussis is very contagious and can cause serious complications, especially in young infants,” said State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H. “I urge Hoosiers to protect themselves and their families by getting vaccinated and following good cough etiquette and handwashing practices.”

Whooping cough is usually spread by coughing or sneezing. It causes a severe cough that can last for months.