Small but Worrisome Increase in Serious Disease

Friday, December 2, 2011 - 8:36am

Whooping Cough Particular Concern for Infants

There has been recent media coverage of a spike in whooping cough (pertussis) cases in Milwaukee with 12 confirmed cases reported in Novemberdouble the normal rate.

In Dane County there were 7 pertussis cases in November. In comparison, there were 3 in October and 5 in September. According to Amanda Kita-Yarbro, Communicable Disease Epidemiologist for Public Health- Madison and Dane County, "while the overall number isn't too unusual, 3 of the cases in November were in children younger than 1 year. It is unusual for Dane County to have 3 infants reported with pertussis in one month".

Pertussis is very contagious, and infants under 6 weeks of age cannot be vaccinated. Babies do not have full protection until receiving at least 3 doses of the vaccine, around 6 months of age. The disease can be life threatening and infants who get infected often require hospitalization. However these infants can be protected from infection if all those in contact with the baby have been vaccinated.

The early symptoms of whooping cough are like the common cold, with runny nose or congestion, sneezing and maybe a mild cough or fever. After 1-2 weeks rapid violent coughing begins which empties the lungs forcing the child to inhale with a loud "whooping" sound. (Check this link to hear the sound:
It should be cautioned that these recordings are disturbing, but nowhere near as disturbing as hearing them live from one's own child.

In light of current conditions, Public Health continues to recommend that parents and health care professionals make a sustained effort to make sure that children are immunized. The needed vaccine (DTaP) should be given in at
• 2 months of age,
• 4 months,
• 6 months,
• 15 to 18 months,
• 4 - 6 years of age

Teens and adults should receive one Tdap vaccine booster to protect themselves from whooping cough and to protect those around them. Tdap is especially important for people who are in contact with babies - day care providers, grandparents, parents, babysitters and health care providers. Pregnant women should get Tdap vaccine in the second half of pregnancy to protect themselves and their newborns.

In Dane County, only 79% of all children turning 2 years old in 2010 completed all 4 of their DTaP shots. Increasing this percentage will help stop the spread of this infection.

Childhood immunizations require a bit more effort than getting just one flu shot. But the reward avoiding the risk and suffering that comes with a disease like pertussis. One in five two year olds in Dane County is currently unprotected from this illness. Listen to the recording of the infant coughing at the link above, and seriously consider helping to close that gap.

For more detailed information on pertussis and where to get free immunizations, see the following links:



  • Jeff Golden(608) 243-0302