LEWISTOWN - There has been a resurgence of pertussis, or whooping cough, statewide and nationwide this year and in Pennsylvania alone, there have been three times as many pertussis cases reported in 2012 as in 2011, both year to date and in the past month, Holli Senior, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health said.
"It's important to note that we don't have finalized numbers yet for this year," Senior said. "What we know for sure at this point is this: It is an active year for pertussis. There have been more than 1,200 confirmed, probable and suspect cases reported statewide this year."
Within the first six months of 2012, there were 895 whooping cough cases reported as compared to the 364 cases reported in the first six months of 2011. As of Sept. 1 there have been 1,317 cases of whooping cough reported statewide.
It can be difficult to diagnose pertussis in the early stages because it exhibits cold-like symptoms, Raymond Nungesser, regional medical director at Geisinger Health System said. Pertussis is caused by a bacteria that infects the lungs and respiratory system, rather than a viral infection which causes the common cold, he said.
"Some people have called it the 100-day cough because it lasts so long," Nungesser said. "The first stage, which seems like the common cold, lasts roughly two weeks, followed by the second stage where the coughing gets more severe and lasts roughly six weeks. The final stage is a gradual recovery which can last between two and three weeks."
Pertussis is passed from person-to-person through the cough, Nungesser said. Someone coughs without covering their mouth, infecting surfaces and people around them. It normally takes seven to 10 days before symptoms begin, he added.
Diagnoses are determined by taking a swab sample from the back of the throat through the nose. Once diagnosed, the patient is treated with antibiotics, Nungesser said. However, if a newborn or infant is infected by the bacteria, there is a greater risk for complications and hospitalization.
According to the PDH, there were 244 in-state infant cases of pertussis in 2009, 248 in 2010 and 152 in 2011. There have been 186 reported cases of infant pertussis so far in 2012, said Kait Gillis, a PDH representative.
Out of those infants infected with pertussis, 57 percent are hospitalized, 23 percent contract pneumonia, 1.6 percent will have convulsions, 67 percent will have apnea, 0.4 percent will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain) and 1.6 percent will die, based on data gathered by the Center for Disease Control.
"There's a serious push to get adults vaccinated against whooping cough because they are passing the bacteria to infants," Nungesser said. "Even if an adult was vaccinated as a child, the immunity begins to wear off over time. If you're going to be anywhere near children or parents with young children, it's imperative that you get the vaccine. It's equally important that expectant mothers get vaccinated as well."
The recommended pertussis vaccine for infants and children is called DtaP, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, and is received at two, four, six, 15 and 18 months of age. The fifth shot is given before a child enters school.
Anyone 10 years old or older should get the Tdap vaccine, a variation of the infant vaccination, Nungesser said. It's important to get vaccinated at least two weeks before coming into contact with an infant, he added.
The Tdap vaccine is available through personal physicians, Weis Markets in Burnham and Mifflintown or CVS in Lewistown and Burnham by appointment.
"While it's true that there is no such thing as guaranteed protection, the vaccine is the surest way to keep yourself and those around you safe from pertussis," Nungesser said.