Health Matters Blog

Pertussis in the Community

By Dr. Kathleen McGraw, CMO

Summer is here in full force, and with that comes more outdoor activities, scraped knees, and the occasional summer cold. However this past month we also had a more unwelcome guest in our community – Pertussis. The Vermont Department of Public Health has reported 11 cases of Pertussis in Windham County during the month of June, most of which were children ages 3-17. While none of these cases have been seen in at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, we do see the need to do all that we can to prevent its further spread.

whooping-cough-pertussisPertussis, also known as Whooping Cough, can be a very serious illness which is easily spread to others. It causes severe coughing or breathing problems and can even be life-threatening, especially in infants. It can last a long time, up to 10 weeks or more. Treatment works best if started early.

Some symptoms to be aware of in children and others are severe coughing spells that make it hard to eat, drink, breathe, or sleep. Sometimes while coughing, the person may gag or make a “whooping” sound when breathing in. Babies younger than six months may or may not cough. Instead, they may have gagging or life-threatening pauses in breathing or struggle to breath. Older kids and adults may just have a bad cough that lasts for multiple weeks.

The best way to protect yourself and others is through vaccination – with DTaP for infants and children and with Tdap for preteens, teens and adults. Protection from the childhood vaccine fades over time. When you are revaccinated, you protect yourself and you are less likely to spread it to others. You can get the vaccine at your primary care physician’s office, local pharmacies, and the Vermont Department of Health district office.

You can also protect yourself and others by following good health manners: wash your hands after touching items others have touched; if you cough, cough into a tissue and then throw it away and wash your hands or use antibacterial hand gel; keep distance between yourself and others when they are coughing, and stay home when you are sick.

Pertussis is a bacteria and is treated with antibiotics to control the symptoms and to prevent infected people from spreading the disease. Consult your doctor or a healthcare provider about the vaccination, if you have been exposed to someone with Pertussis, think you might have symptoms, and with any other questions or concerns.
The Vermont Department of Public Health website has lots of helpful information and frequently asked questions, visit them at http://healthvermont.gov/prevent/pertussis/Pertussis.aspx.

Dr. Kathleen McGraw is Chief Medical Officer at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. She can be reach at (802) 257-0341.