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Whooping cough -- pertussis -- on the rise in Alaska

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Posted: Monday, September 24, 2012 12:03 am | Updated: 11:30 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Cases of pertussis, also called “whooping cough,” have been on the rise both nationally and in Alaska. Washington state now considers the outbreak an epidemic, with thousands of cases reported. So far this year, Alaska has seen more than twice its annual average.

Pertussis can be a serious disease, especially for infants less than 1 year old.

Pertussis is spread person to person through respiratory droplets typically produced when a person with pertussis coughs or sneezes. Pertussis begins with cold-like symptoms and a cough that gradually becomes worse. Within two weeks, the cough becomes more severe and is characterized by episodes of numerous, rapid coughs sometimes followed by a crowing or high-pitched whoop or vomiting. People with symptoms of pertussis should be careful to not expose others to respiratory droplets by covering their cough with their sleeve and washing their hands often. Immunization for adults working with infants is especially critical as infants can’t begin to receive their immunization until 2 months of age.

Immunization against pertussis is the best way to protect infants and help prevent outbreaks in your community. People should have their pertussis immunization status verified and updated. School-age children who have received the required immunizations for school should already be immunized against pertussis; check with your health care provider if you’re not sure. Adults can receive a one-time booster of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccine if they have not already had pertussis immunization as an adult.

If your child has or develops symptoms of pertussis (prolonged cough that may include vomiting), please tell your health care provider. Children who are ill with pertussis will need to be treated and stay home for the full course of treatment. Children who are ill and do not take the medicine should be excluded from childcare facilities and school for at least 21 days.

Adults who develop symptoms of pertussis should contact their primary health care provider for evaluation. They should avoid exposing others by staying home until the full course of treatment has been completed.

Adults who are uninsured or underinsured can contact their local state public health center for immunizations. People with health insurance should contact their primary health care provider for evaluation and immunization.

For more information about pertussis, please visit the Alaska Section of Epidemiology website ( and click on the link for pertussis.

Please feel free to contact your local public health nurse if you have questions or concerns regarding these recommendations.

Greg Wilkinson is a public affairs officer for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

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