Wednesday September 15, 2010

BENNINGTON -- The Vermont Department of Health has alerted health care providers across the state about a rising number of cases of pertussis, better known as whooping cough.

State health officials said Wednesday that nine cases of pertussis have been confirmed in Vermont, including five in the past two weeks alone. Pertussis is a highly contagious disease of the lungs caused by a bacterial infection.

No cases have been confirmed in southern Vermont, according to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and state health officials, but it is possible undiagnosed cases exist and health care providers have been alerted.

Vermont Health Commissioner Wendy Davis said whooping cough is somewhat common for the season, but should be taken seriously.

"The number of cases of pertussis is not unusually high for this time of year, but it is a good reminder for parents, providers and school health officials to make sure children are fully vaccinated, and to look for symptoms of the disease," Davis said. "Teenagers and adults should also check their records, since they are a frequent source of exposure to infection for infants and young children."

Vermont law requires students to receive a minimum of four doses of a pertussis-containing vaccine. If pertussis is identified in a school, letters are typically sent to parents to inform them of the illness, describe symptoms of pertussis and encourage parents to have symptomatic children examined by a health care provider.

Davis said the infection usually begins with mild upper respiratory symptoms and an irritating cough that gradually worsens to include possible whooping, short periods without breathing, or vomiting. Serious complications from pertussis are most common among children under 1 year old, including pneumonia, encephalopathy (brain inflammation) and in rare cases, death.

Davis said Pertussis can also be contagious to people who were fully vaccinated as children but have not received a pertussis-containing vaccine in their teen or adult years. Immunity to the disease can wane over time and a booster vaccine should be given one time to all Vermonters ages 10 through 64.

The last widespread outbreak of pertussis in Vermont occurred in 1996 and 1997. A total of 280 cases were identified in 1996, including 171 cases in school-aged children in 69 Vermont schools, according to the Health Department. In 1997 there were 283 cases. In the past decade, the highest number of cases of pertussis was 254 in 2000.

On the Web: www.healthvermont.gov