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Residents urged to protect ohana from whooping cough

July 28, 2014 - 12:05am

The Hawaii Department of Health is asking Hawaii Island residents to familiarize themselves with the dangers of whooping cough and how they can protect themselves and their family from the highly contagious disease.

The illness, also known as pertussis, is caused by Bordetella pertussis, a bacteria found in the mouth, nose and throat of an infected person. You can get pertussis at any age, but it is most serious in infants younger than 12 months.

How do you get it? Pertussis spreads easily through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes.

Symptoms of pertussis? The symptoms usually start within seven to 10 days after exposure to someone with pertussis and may last up to 10 weeks or longer.

Pertussis usually begins with mild cold-like symptoms, including runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and slight cough. After one to two weeks, a violent hacking cough occurs, with each coughing fit sometimes followed by a high-pitched “whoop” when a child finally breathes in. During coughing fits, infants and children appear very ill and distressed and may turn blue. Adolescents and adults may feel like they cannot stop coughing to take a breath. Vomiting and exhaustion commonly follow coughing fits.

Infants younger than 12 months who have not completed the recommended number of pertussis vaccine doses often have the most severe symptoms. In infants, the cough can be minimal or may not even be present. Infants may develop long pauses in breathing, also known as apnea.

What is the treatment for pertussis? Early treatment with antibiotics is very important. If started early, before severe coughing starts, symptoms may be less severe. Treatment is most important to keep from spreading the infection to others. Household and other close contacts of a person with pertussis should also be treated with antibiotics to keep from getting or spreading the disease. Hospital care may be needed, especially for young infants.

Should a person with pertussis stay home from work or school? Yes. A person with pertussis should stay home for five days after starting antibiotic treatment. If no antibiotics are taken, a person with pertussis should stay home for three weeks after the start of the cough.

How can you keep from getting pertussis? The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. Children 2 months to 6 years old should receive five doses of diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis (DTaP) vaccine. Most children who receive all DTaP vaccine doses will be protected, although protection does decrease over time. A one-time DTaP booster vaccine is recommended for pre-teens and adults to help them stay protected against pertussis. Pregnant women should get DTaP during each pregnancy, preferably during their third trimester, to protect their newborn from pertussis. Because whooping cough can be so harmful in babies, it is important for everyone around them to be vaccinated against pertussis, creating a circle of protection.

If someone in your household has a severe and long coughing illness, see your medical provider, and if medication is prescribed, take and finish it as recommended. For more information, call the Department of Health’s Disease Investigation Branch at 933-0912 in Hilo or 322-4877 in Kona. Also visit