Skip to content Skip to footer

Escalating Whooping Cough Cases Emphasize the Continued Need for Constant Vigilance in Infection Prevention

Healthcare professionals are currently observing an escalating trend of whooping cough, or pertussis, across the United States, as revealed by data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). At least 4,864 cases of the contagion have been flagged this year, which is nearly thrice the 1,746 cases reported during the corresponding period in the previous year.

The situation mirrors those witnessed in several U.S. states. For instance, the Oregon Health Authority disclosed on Thursday a sharp 770% jump to 178 cases as of May 29, 2024, from just 20 cases reported during the same timeframe in 2023. Meanwhile, local reports suggest that schools in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Minnetonka, Minnesota, are grappling with whooping cough outbreaks.

Dr. Felicia Scaggs Huang, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Division of Infectious Diseases, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, mentions that the current cases of whooping cough mimic global trends. She warns that while we may witness a significant increase from last year’s figures, these trends are reminiscent of pre-pandemic times. Moreover, pertussis is known to surge in cycles, approximately every three to five years.

Pertussis is an acute bacterial infection, highly communicable and caused by Bordetella pertussis. These bacteria latch on to cilia (small hair-like structures) of the upper respiratory system, releasing toxins that damage the cilia and cause the upper airways to swell. The disease spreads from person-to-person primarily through coughing and sneezing.

Early symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, and low-grade fever may mislead one into mistaking whooping cough for the common cold. However, patients may experience rapid, violent coughing fits lasting up to 12 weeks, alerting to the severity of the infection. It can affect anyone, but infants under one, expecting mothers, and immunocompromised individuals are at a higher risk.

Antibiotics could help manage whooping cough, and prompt treatment could mitigate the intensity of the infection. Most symptoms can be controlled at home. Vaccination against pertussis introduced in the late 1940s contributed to an over 90% drop in cases compared to pre-vaccine times, yet it does not offer lifelong immunity.

Dr. Syra Madad, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and Chief Biopreparedness Officer for New York City Health and Hospitals, emphasizes reinstating booster doses. Meanwhile, Dr. Scaggs Huang advises transposing the recent lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to other respiratory illnesses. This includes maintaining distance from sick individuals, especially if you are around a young infant, aged, or someone with compromised immunity, staying at home when sick, and wearing a mask in areas with high whooping cough prevalence.


Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Be the first to know the latest updates

[yikes-mailchimp form="1"]