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Pertussis in Richland County


Richland County has another confirmed pertussis case (whooping cough) in an adult as of 12/19/13 which makes 10 for the year. The Richland County Public Health Department is working with health care providers, and other partners to identify close contacts and ensure that they are evaluated and treated as needed.

Pertussis is a contagious respiratory disease that in almost all cases can be effectively treated by a health care professional if identified early. Pertussis is spread through the air by coughing, and transmission is dependent on the closeness and length of contact. The disease is most serious in very young infants – especially those under the age of six months. Infants should be kept away from anyone diagnosed with pertussis or identified as a close contact of someone who has been diagnosed. Infants with any coughing illness should be promptly evaluated by their health care provider.

The Richland County Public Health Department's number one priority is to contain the spread of the disease. Health Department staff will identify close contacts of those who have been diagnosed with pertussis in order to lessen further spread of this disease. Mass treatment is not recommended or indicated at this time.

Pertussis begins with cold symptoms (runny nose, sneezing) and a cough. The cough continues which becomes much worse over one to two weeks and can last up to 6 weeks or more. Symptoms usually include a long series of coughs (coughing fits) followed by a whooping noise. However, older children, adults and very young infants may not develop the whoop. Coughing fits may also be followed by vomiting or turning blue. Immunized adults may have an irritating cough that does not go away even after using over the counter cough/cold medication. There is generally no fever. The cough is more often worse at night or with activity and may cause fatigue. Anyone experiencing these symptoms or a cough that has lasted two weeks or longer should contact their health care provider.

The most effective way to prevent pertussis is through vaccination. Pertussis vaccine is available for persons over the age of six weeks. It is included in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended routine childhood immunizations schedule. It is also very important for adults to receive the vaccination as well. No vaccine is 100 percent effective and no community is 100 percent vaccinated. However, we do know that vaccines are the most effective tool we have to reduce transmission of pertussis and that even immunized children who get sick tend to have less severe symptoms than children who are not immunized.


Pertussis, also called "whooping cough," is a disease caused by bacteria. Pertussis is usually mild in older children and adults, but it often causes serious problems in babies.


Pertussis is most common among babies, but anyone can get it. Pertussis can be hard to diagnose in babies, teens, and adults because their symptoms often look like a cold with a nagging cough. Babies often get pertussis from older children and adults.


Pertussis begins like a cold, with a runny nose, sneezing, mild fever, and cough that slowly gets worse. After one to two weeks, the cough gets worse and usually starts to occur in strong "coughing fits." This type of coughing may last for six or more weeks. There is generally no fever during this time. In young children, coughing fits are often followed by a whooping sound as they try to catch their breath. After coughing, a person may have difficulty catching their breath, vomit, or become blue in the face from lack of air. The coughing spells may be so bad that it is hard for babies to eat, drink, or breath. The cough is often worse at night, and cough medicines usually do no help reduce the cough. Between coughing spells, the person often appears to be well. Some babies may only have apnea (failure to breathe) and can die from this. Adults, teens, and vaccinated children often have milder symptoms that mimic bronchitis and asthma.


The pertussis bacteria live in the nose, mouth, and throat, and are sprayed into the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks. Other people nearby can then inhale the bacteria. Touching a tissue or sharing a cup used by someone with pertussis can spread the disease. The first symptoms usually appear within 5 days to 21 days after a person is infected.


It can be, especially for babies. Pertussis can cause breathing problems (apnea), pneumonia, and swelling of the brain (encephalopathy), which can lead to seizures and brain damage. Pertussis can also cause death (rarely), especially in babies.


A doctor may diagnose a patient with pertussis because of their symptoms. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will swab the back of the nose for laboratory testing.


Antibiotics are used to treat the infected person and their close contacts. In addition, it is helpful to get plenty of rest and fluids. Person hospitalized with severe pertussis may need special treatments to help them through prolonged periods of coughing.


Yes. Pertussis may be prevented in household members and close contacts of a person with pertussis by treating them with antibiotics, even if they have been vaccinated. Vaccination of children in early infancy as well as adults may also prevent pertussis. Pertussis vaccine is given along with diphtheria and tetanus vaccines in the same shot. When possible, babies should be kept away from people who are coughing since most hospitalizations and deaths occur in children less than three months of age. Babies with any coughing illness should be seen by a doctor.


Yes, it is safe for most people. Pertussis causes about 10 deaths to 20 deaths each year in the United States. That is why experts recommend that all babies and children should be given a full series of DTaP vaccine. Children 11 years and older and adults should receive a single booster dose of Tdap unless there is a medical reason not to receive the vaccine.

Additional information related to pertussis can be found on the Richland County Public Health Department's website on or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at


Reader Comments

montananext writes:

The major cause of whopping cough in Montana is right wing religious parents who refuse to have their children properly immunized. They home school their children (because kids entering public schools in Montana MUST, by law, be properly immunized. These people threatened the health of all children in this state with their misguided (and frankly) silliness. If you're religious, Christ finds this nonsense unacceptable as He showed us the way to vaccines.


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