Whooping cough cases increase in N.D.A recent surge in cases of whooping cough has state and local health officials reminding people to protect themselves and others with vaccination. As of Friday, 90 cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, had been reported in North Dakota so far this year — up from the 70 cases reported during the entirety of 2011.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
A recent surge in cases of whooping cough has state and local health officials reminding people to protect themselves and others with vaccination.
As of Friday, 90 cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, had been reported in North Dakota so far this year — up from the 70 cases reported during the entirety of 2011.
Only one case has been reported in Stutsman County so far, and three in Barnes County.
“Pertussis is a cyclical illness, so … about every five years, you see an up-rise, and you see more cases of pertussis,” said Abbi Pierce, immunization surveillance coordinator with the North Dakota Department of Health.
The numbers are worse in Minnesota, with 1,881 cases reported so far — nearly three times the 661 cases reported throughout 2011.
Whooping cough is a contagious disease caused by bacteria, according to information from the North Dakota Department of Health, and it is particularly serious in young infants.
Its symptoms begin much like a cold or flu, with runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and a cough that worsens over time.
During the second stage of pertussis, victims experience uncontrolled coughing spells and often, a characteristic “whoop” noise that occurs as the person tries to suck in air. Coughing spells can be so bad they cause the sufferer to gag, vomit or turn blue from lack of air. Infants might suffer from apnea — failure to breathe — or develop a blue tint.
That can last six weeks or even more, and the final stage, when symptoms gradually improve, can also last weeks or even months.
Because of its similarity to colds and influenza, whooping cough is often misdiagnosed, Pierce said.
And not everyone who has whooping cough makes the “whoop” noise.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 to 50 million cases of pertussis occur worldwide each year, with about 300,000 deaths.
“Everyone is at risk for pertussis, but infants and unvaccinated children are at the highest risk for developing severe complications from pertussis,” the North Dakota Department of Health information sheet says.
More than half of infants younger than 1 year old who get whooping cough are hospitalized, according to the CDC.
It is important for parents to have their children follow the vaccination schedule, said Robin Iszler, unit administrator with Central Valley Health District.
That includes pertussis vaccinations at 2, 4 and 6 months, as well as another booster between 18 and 24 months and a booster between age 4 and 6, prior to entering school. Children entering middle school also receive a booster shot that includes a pertussis vaccine.
It is also recommended that adults receive a Tdap booster — protecting against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis — once in place of the Td boosters recommended every 10 years, said Marcia Bollingberg, director of nursing at Central Valley Health District.
“The recommendations are for adults to be vaccinated, especially if you’re a caregiver of an infant child,” Iszler said. People age 65 and older should also be sure to get a Tdap booster.
Central Valley offers vaccines from 4 to 6 p.m. every Wednesday through August. Local clinics also offer the vaccine.
“Anybody can come,” Bollingberg said. “For all children up to age 18, we do have (the vaccine). For adults, they may have to pay for it privately.”
No children are denied immunizations due to inability to pay, Iszler said.
For an uninsured adult, the cost for a Tdap booster would be $55 at Central Valley, but vaccines are typically covered by insurance.
Vaccines are critical in the efforts to stem the tide of whooping cough, but they aren’t the only precaution people can take. They can also practice positive health habits, such as hand-washing and staying home when sick.
“Kids shouldn’t have to be subjected to (pertussis),” Iszler said.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin
can be reached at
701-952-8453 or by email at