Whooping cough outbreaks reported

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May 8, 2012
— Walworth and Dane counties are in the middle of whooping cough outbreaks, and a public health nurse warned that Rock County could be next.

Walworth County officials have confirmed 54 cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, and Dane County has reported close to 200 cases since March, said Pat Grove, Walworth County health officer.

Cases in Walworth County declined in April, but they appear to be ramping up again, Grove said.

Rock County officials have confirmed seven cases, including five in the last 1 1/2 weeks, said Janet Zoellner, Rock County public health nursing director.

"That will probably increase," Zoellner said.

The spike in cases confirmed in surrounding counties means it's likely to get worse in Rock County.

Statewide, almost 1,900 cases have been reported, compared to 158 a year ago.

People might think they are immune to whooping cough because they have been vaccinated, but that protection could waver with time, health officials said.

Many of the new cases are caused when adults pass the infection to children.

Youth, especially infants, are most vulnerable. Children ages 5 through 14 made up more than 62 percent of the investigations in Walworth County, and the median age of those infected is 12, Grove said.

If pertussis is confirmed, all people in contact with the infected person typically are given antibiotics.

Zoellner remembered a Rock County case that started with parents who did not vaccinate their children out of personal convictions. When one child developed whooping cough, 50 others had to be given antibiotics.

Antibiotics are not without their side effects. Overdoing them can cause loss of effectiveness, Zoellner said.

"It concerns me that in Dane, Walworth and Rock counties we have hundreds of people taking antibiotics to ward off pertussis when they could have prevented that by a vaccination," Zoellner said.

Zoellner and Grove urged residents to check if their vaccinations are up-to-date and to get revaccinated if necessary to protect themselves and others in the community. The vaccine is given in combination with the tetanus booster.

Hospitals are beginning to recommend that parents, grandparents and caregivers of young children get boosters before taking babies home.

Health departments are working with pediatricians, obstetricians and emergency room personnel to revaccinate patients who need boosters, Zoellner said.

Some people believe vaccinations are a personal choice, but Zoellner said everybody belongs to a community.

"You don't know who you're coughing on," Zoellner said. "You don't know who you're transferring that bacteria to."


Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial disease that attacks the respiratory system and causes uncontrollable, violent coughing. The coughing makes it hard to breath, and a deep "whooping" sound is sometimes heard when the patient tries to take a breath in between coughs.

Exposure occurs with repeated face-to-face contact. It also spreads when someone sneezes or coughs and tiny droplets that hold the bacteria spread through the air.

Symptoms include runny nose, low-grade fever and mild but irritating cough for two to four weeks. The disease progresses to spells of explosive coughing, followed by vomiting and exhaustion.


Call your doctor to be tested for whooping cough if you suspect you have it. Avoid contact with others, especially small children and infants, until after you have completed five days of antibiotics.

Call your health provider to find out whether you need a pertussis booster. If you received a tetanus booster that did not contain the pertussis vaccine, you should get another one with it.

Low- to no-cost vaccinations are available at both the Rock County and Walworth public health departments by either appointment or at the walk-in clinics.

Call the Rock County Health Department at (608) 757-5440 or (608) 364-2010 for clinic times or to make appointments. Call the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services at (262) 741-3140. Residents can visit the websites of either department to get more information.

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