published Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Whooping cough cases increase dramatically in Hamilton County

Pertussis cases in Hamilton County

• 2007 — 1

• 2008 — 3

• 2009 — 11

• 2010 — 3

• 2011 — 4

• 2012 year to date — 21

Source: Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department

Pertussis cases in Tennessee

• 2007 — 74

• 2008 — 120

• 2009 — 203

• 2010 — 226

• 2011 — 94

2012 year to date* — 132

  • Through Aug. 25

Source: Tennessee Department of Health


The first symptoms of pertussis are similar to a cold: sneezing, runny nose, possibly a low-grade fever, and a cough. Other possible symptoms include:

• A severe cough that occurs in sudden, uncontrollable bursts where one cough follows the next without a break for breath.

• A high-pitched whooping sound when breathing in after a coughing episode; more common in children, less common in infants and adults.

• Vomiting during or after a coughing spell.

• The person's face or lips may look blue from lack of oxygen.

Source: Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department

Do you plan to get vaccinated against whooping cough?

If you have a persistent, severe cough, you may be the latest victim of a national increase in pertussis — better known as whooping cough.

Hamilton County has seen 21 cases so far this year, compared to 22 cases in the last five years combined, according to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

Northwest Georgia also had more than double the number of cases so far this year compared to last year, according to health departments in those counties.

Pertussis can be especially serious for young children and infants who may not have had all their vaccinations.

Margaret Zylstra, epidemiology manager for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, said officials have not determined any specific reason for the increase. It may even be partially because of an increased awareness of the disease, which leads to an increase in diagnosis, Zylstra said.

"Diseases like pertussis go through cycles -- you have years when you see increases," she said.

At least 46 states across the country have seen an increase in whooping cough cases this year compared to last year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 22,000 cases were reported nationwide through Aug. 11, with 13 pertussis-related deaths.

In Hamilton County, 16 of the 21 cases have been in children younger than six.

Jennifer King, spokeswoman for the North Georgia Health District, said they have also tried to increase awareness since seeing an increase in cases this year. Whitfield, Gilmer and Murray counties have all seen an increase in cases this year but Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties have not seen a significant increase.

Zylstra said they are urging people to get booster shots to help curb the spread. Anyone older than 11 and especially people who work with children should get the booster, known as Tdap, she said.

Tdap is short for tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis.

Physicians can give the booster shot, and many pharmacies have begun to administer it as well, Zylstra said.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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