October 25, 2004
Even those who may not have heard of pertussis, may be familiar
with whooping cough (another name for the same disease). Regardless
of which name you know, what does that name mean?
"Pertussis is a
bacterial respiratory illness characterized by severe spasms of
coughing that can last for several weeks or even for months. Pertussis
is usually spread from person-to-person through close contact
with respiratory droplets released when a person coughs or sneezes.
Before the introduction of vaccination in the 1940s, pertussis
was a major cause of serious illness and death among infants and
young children in the United States. ... An increasing number
of cases of pertussis have been reported to the CDC since the
1980s. The increases are greatest among adolescents (aged 10-19
years), but an increase is also seen among infants younger than
5 months old."
An increase in cases?
"Pertussis has increased
dramatically in the past year, with several states reporting large
outbreaks. Nearly 10,000 cases had been reported to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention by the end of September, a
significant increase over the nearly 6,000 reported by this time
last year. Much of this increase is accounted for by outbreaks
in Midwestern, New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. For example,
Wisconsin had a total of 215 cases last year, but already has
tallied more than 1,200 this year -- eight times what would normally
be expected. ... North Dakota also has seen a spike, with more
than 600 cases this year compared with only six in 2003, although
that outbreak now appears to be dwindling...."
Even if you do not live
in an area that has seen a recent increase in cases, pertussis
is still something to pay attention to.
"The Society for
Adolescent Medicine is urging parents to be aware that their teen's
runny nose, watery eyes, and nagging cough may signal whooping
cough, or pertussis. ... Late last year the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention issued a report stating that whooping cough
is on the rise in the United States, primarily among infants too
young to have received the full series of vaccinations against
the disease. Whooping cough has also gained increasing attention
lately due to news reports of outbreaks among adolescents in states
such as New York, Illinois and Wisconsin. In March of this year,
Reuters Health also reported on an outbreak of the condition in
an Arizona middle school. Still, fewer than 20 percent of parents
surveyed were concerned that their teenagers could contract the
illness. 'Parents aren't nervous about it because they don't understand
it,' Dr. Amy Middleman of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston,
Texas told Reuters Health...."
Why is this an issue
has shown that immunity begins to wane five to 10 years after
the last round of vaccinations, which children receive at four
to six years of age, making adolescents vulnerable to contracting
the illness and spreading it to high-risk infants not yet fully
immunized. In its earliest -- and most contagious -- stage, whooping
cough is almost indistinguishable from the common cold, Middleman
explained. After a week or two, its symptoms become more specific,
as the affected person experiences violent coughing with intermittent
periods of breathing difficulty. During this second stage, which
can last as long as six weeks, people can cough so hard that they
vomit, or even pull a muscle or break ribs. This is followed by
the convalescent stage, which can last for months."
What symptoms mean pertussis?
symptoms are not unique:
"Colds are caused
by a virus and can occur year-round. The common cold generally
involves a runny nose, nasal congestion, and sneezing. Other symptoms
include sore throat, cough, and headache. A cold usually lasts
about 7 days, with perhaps a few lingering symptoms such as a
coughfor another week."
"Your head aches,
and so does every bone in your body. You're cold one minute and
hot the next. Your throat is scratchy, you're starting to cough
- you may be getting the flu! ... Flu symptoms - headache, fever,
chills, and dry cough - appear anywhere from 1 to 4 days after
you've been exposed to the virus. Your temperature can get as
high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). You'll probably
feel achy and exhausted and you may lose your appetite."
"Symptoms of a viral
sore throat include a runny nose, cough, hoarseness, red or runny
eyes, and diarrhea. If those sound like your symptoms, your sore
throat is probably viral and will clear up on its own....
Questions of the Week:
What are the benefits of knowing what virus or bacterial infection
is causing your symptoms? Why can it often be difficult for patients
(and even doctors) to know the cause of an illness? How can knowing
the cause change your interactions with others and/or your handling
of the illness? Are there times when symptoms can be ignored as
'just a cold'? At what point do you change your behavior (where
you go, the people with whom you interact)? At what point do you
see a doctor?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum