Earlier this week, North Carolina health officials confirmed eight cases of whooping cough and suspect 23 more at an Alamance County elementary school. Though Alamance County is about three hours away from Asheville, the fears about this infectious disease are not isolated to county lines. In 2010, the Buncombe County Health Department reported 68 cases of whooping cough, also called pertussis, that resulted in almost 1,200 people receiving antibiotics due to their exposure to the disease.
We spoke with disease control supervisor for the Buncombe County Health Department Sue Ellen Morrision to tell us more.
Mountain Xpress: When was the last time Buncombe County had an outbreak like the one seen in Alamance County?
Sue Ellen Morrison: Well it depends on what you mean by outbreak. In 2011, we had 16 cases, but they were not all at one time. What you usually see with this disease, because it is so contagious, is that it spreads more like clusters. In 2010, we had 68 cases and it was more like a cluster, but the year before that we only had 3 cases. It just really shows how important it is to get vaccinated and get protected.
Why is pertussis called whooping cough?
When you think about infants, they don’t have a very developed respiratory system yet. Their lungs are still developing and their airway passages are very small. When they have pertussis though, those airway passages get constricted and it becomes difficult for them to breathe. They cough so hard that when they breathe in so desperately for air, it makes a whooping sound.
Who are the most susceptible?
Children that are a year or younger are the most vulnerable, especially those who have not completed their first round of DTaP (diphtheria tetanus and pertussis) vaccines.
Besides getting their child vaccinated, what can parents do to prevent their child from getting whooping cough?
Parents and siblings need to get vaccinated to protect them. These kids really need it. Parents and grandparents can get vaccinated, even their older siblings.
What should people take away from hearing about the recent whooping cough outbreak in Alamance County?
I think it just really shows the importance of getting that vaccination and making sure that we keep our immunity high against preventable diseases like this. I think what we need to remember that we can do something about it.
The vaccine can be obtained from your local health provider or the Buncombe County Health Department.