Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Cough cases not abnormal

No outbreak here, officials say

By Matt Leingang
Enquirer staff writer

Hamilton County has seen a small increase in the number of whooping cough cases but it is probably not linked to the disease's resurgence in other parts of the United States, public health officials say.

So far this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has counted outbreaks, most involving teenagers, in 11 states, including one outbreak in the Chicago area that has involved more than 100 cases since March.

Hamilton County has 21 confirmed cases. At this time last year, there were 10. The county finished 2003 with 26 confirmed cases.

Sporadic cases of the bacteria-borne disease occur every year.

"While the numbers are up this year, it's hard to tell right now if there is an unusual pattern or not," said Cincinnati Health Commissioner Malcolm Adcock.

• Highly communicable - yet vaccine-preventable - disease that lasts for many weeks and causes severe coughing, "whooping" and vomiting.

• Typically, about 5,000 to 7,000 cases are reported each year in the United States. But a preliminary government count found more than 11,000 cases in 2003, up from 9,771 in 2002 and the most recorded in three decades.

• It is recommended that children begin an immunization series against whooping cough at 2, 4, and 6 months to confer protection, with two additional doses until their 6th birthday.

• 13 children died from pertussis in the United States in 2003. Most deaths occur among unvaccinated children or children too young to be vaccinated.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center also reports whooping cough activity, but officials do not consider it out of the ordinary, spokesman Jim Feuer said.

The concern nationwide, however, is that whooping cough is making a comeback because the vaccine that babies get appears to wear off by adolescence. The government is now debating whether it's time for booster shots.

Pediatricians routinely immunize infants against whooping cough, giving them a shot in combination with vaccines for diphtheria and tetanus. Ohio and Kentucky require the vaccine before children enter school.

But proponents say booster shots for older children could prevent misery and school and work absences, and indirectly protect any infants who have yet to be immunized.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can be spread much like the common cold and causes prolonged coughing spells, difficulty breathing, hoarseness, hives and paleness. In infants, the illness can be so bad that it is hard for them to eat, drink or breathe.

Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics.

Earlier this year, two Greater Cincinnati school districts asked parents to look for signs of whooping cough in their children. One case was confirmed at Walnut Hills High School.

A student in the Milford school district had it, too, along with a parent of another student there.

Northern Kentucky reports five cases so far, the same total for this time last year. Overall in 2003, there were 12 cases in Northern Kentucky.

In 1993, Greater Cincinnati was hit with a whooping cough epidemic. Hundreds of cases were reported and entire classes of schoolchildren and large groups of employees were given shots to slow the disease.


The Associated Press contributed to this report. E-mail mleingang@enquirer.com

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