In mid-February, Dutchess County health officials reported an increase since the beginning of the year in cases of whooping cough. While the numbers of new cases have waned in the past few weeks, health experts say the recurrence of the disease, in general, is puzzling, and urge vaccination.
The Dutchess County Department of Behavioral & Community Health in mid-February reported an increase in cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, particularly among adolescents, with more than 20 cases since January 1. As Dutchess County’s Director of Communicable Disease Control Linda Squires says, the number then continued to rise.
“From between January 1 through the current date, we’ve had a total of 47 confirmed cases of pertussis but, fortunately, we are seeing a decline in the past two weeks of only five cases reported since March 15th,” says Squires.
According to the New York State Department of Health, pertussis is a serious lung infection caused by bacteria. It is also very contagious and causes coughing fits. Again, Squires.
“Well, pertussis incidents sort of wax and wanes over time and we do see clusters that are not really explainable,” says Squires. “But in 2011 we had 100 cases reported, but between 2012 and 2014 we’ve probably stayed under 20-30 cases each of those years, so it’s variable.”
Dr. Stuart Feinstein is an infectious disease specialist at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie and with Health Quest Medical Practice.
“It’s just not something that seems to go away. It seems like every time they get it snuffed out, it’s popping up somewhere,” says Dr. Feinstein. “It’s been unusual.”
Squires underscores the importance of vaccinating against pertussis.
“Vaccinations are extremely important in reducing the risk and the severity of pertussis,” says Squires. “The recommendations begin at two months of age. And now there’s Tdap vaccine, which is a booster for adolescents and adults, and is particularly recommended for those persons who are going to be around infants younger than two months so that you could almost cocoon them against pertussis because they cannot be vaccinated themselves.”
Dr. Feinstein agrees and says the fluctuation in annual cases defies easy explanation.
“I think it’s very hard to say why the fluctuation in cases occurs. I know there is certainly an effort, a successful effort, to vaccinate, re-vaccinate adults, to give the Tdap vaccine, and to keep the children on tabs,” Dr. Feinstein says. “It’s something that’s never been totally wiped out. I think in the last 10 years, there’s been waves of it back and forth.”
Meanwhile, Squires says her department a few weeks ago sent an advisory to area health care providers to be on alert for screening and treatment of pertussis. She says the cases in Dutchess County were reported as far south as Beacon and as far north as the Rhinebeck/Red Hook area. Other whooping cough cases since the new year were seen in Orange and Sullivan Counties.