Whooping Cough Cases On the Rise

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Across Arkansas, cases of pertussis - also known as whooping cough - are up. The Arkansas Department of Health reports 307 confirmed cases of pertussis so far this year - the highest amount since 2009.

Benton and Sebastian counties have the highest number of confirmed cases so far this year with 12 in each county.

According to the Arkansas Department of Health, pertussis is a highly contagious disease that affects the respiratory tract - the nose, throat and chest.

Lois Lasater, a communicable disease nurse specialist for the northwest region, said the bacterial infection starts like the common cold with symptoms including a runny nose, sneezing, a low-grade fever and a mild cough. She said within two weeks the symptoms can become more severe.

"[The cough is] characterized by rapid coughing, and it's followed by a real shrill whoop or crowing," said Lasater. She said a thick, clear mucous may accompany the cough.

Adolescents and adults make up most of the reported cases of pertussis, but children under age five and infants younger than six months are more severely affected by the illness, according to Lasater.

"When they have whooping cough at that age, they have periods of apnea - they cough so hard they can't breathe," she said. "They have post-tussis vomiting which means they cough and cough until they vomit."

Lasater said infected patients will be prescribed an antibiotic like Azithromycin which will kill the bacteria within five days. However, she said the coughing may last another month.

A pertussis vaccination is required for Arkansas students when they enter the seventh grade, according to Lasater. The Center for Disease Control recommends immunization for pregnant women and anyone who has contact with children.

Lasater said pertussis vaccinations are available at your local health unit.