Archive for Thursday, February 17, 2005

Whooping cough cases reported

February 17, 2005

Several cases of whooping cough in Johnson County have health care workers suggesting tests for residents who have been exposed to or show symptoms of the ailment.

Four cases have been reported in the county since the first of the year, said Nancy Tausz, division director of disease containment for the Johnson County Health Department. There were 37 total cases in 2004, she said.

"We've had quite a few cases in the last few months," Tausz said. "It's very contagious."

Symptoms of whooping cough, the common name for pertussis, resemble those of the common cold: runny nose, hacking cough, low fever. In patients with pertussis, however, coughing increases in frequency, severity and regularity, eventually producing the ailment's signature "whoop."

Steve Rettinger, a doctor at De Soto Family Practice, 33490 Lexington Ave., described a typical cough.

"People often say they cough so hard they can't get their breath," he said. "It's a nasty, horrible, look-like-they're-going-to-pass-out kind of cough. The whoop happens after the coughing fit."

After being unable to inspire during a coughing fit, a patient's sudden, forceful post-fit intake of air causes the whooping sound and sometimes vomiting, Rettinger said.

Tausz and Rettinger said pertussis was most dangerous in infants, elderly people, or people with otherwise compromised immune systems.

Whooping cough is spread easily, like the common cold. If diagnosed, it is treated with standard antibiotics. Doctors use a nasopharyngeal swab test to diagnose the illness.

The main problems with whooping cough are that it is very contagious and difficult to diagnose without a test, Tausz said. Infected young babies and adults with mild cases may not always whoop.

"It's so contagious, and people usually don't know they have it until after they've been coughing for who knows how long," Tausz said.

People shouldn't panic at first sniff, but they should ask their doctor for a test if things worsen or if they've been exposed to anyone with whooping cough.

Rettinger said he had yet to diagnose any cases of whooping cough so far this season, although he had tested about 20 people for the ailment.

Immunization prevents most cases of whooping cough. A series of DPT -- diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus -- vaccinations are required for all Kansas children entering kindergarten.

However, Tausz said, some peoples' immunity wanes differently, or some older people may not have been immunized.

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