Alert Issued for Whooping Cough

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday April 04, 2006

The good news is the student at King Middle School who came down with pertussis—whooping cough to most of us—a couple of weeks ago has taken the prescribed dose of antibiotics, is no longer contagious and is back at school. 

The news that parents don’t want to hear, however, is that whooping cough is on the upsurge in Alameda County and across the country. Preteens and teens are particularly vulnerable.  

“A substantial increase in reported cases has occurred among adolescents, who become susceptible to pertussis approximately 6-10 years after childhood vaccination,” according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dec. 23, 2005 ,Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 

Whooping cough is a “reportable” disease—one about which doctors inform local health officers. When Berkeley Health Officer Dr. Linda Rudolph learned of the illness, she asked the school to send home notices.  

Historically, a whooping cough vaccine has been given routinely to babies. 

“But now we’re seeing cases in school-age kids,” Rudolph said. The public health department is recommending a new vaccine for those 11-18 years of age. 

“The vaccine (given to babies) appears to need a booster,” she said. 

King Middle School sent home two different letters to parents, depending on whether the children were in class with the child who had become ill or others who were simply attending the school. For those who may have had direct contact, the school recommended that parents take the children to the doctor. 

“Antibiotics can prevent the spread of pertussis and are recommended for persons who have had close contact with someone who has pertussis. To prevent your child from becoming ill with pertussis, we recommend that he/she take antibiotics,” the letter states. 

According to Rudolph, the “typical symptoms are spasmodic coughing. A lot of times there is a running nose.” 

The cough often ends with a “whoop,” with the patient gasping for air. Sometimes there is vomiting. 

While the disease is very contagious, it is considered most severe in infants. 

“If people think they have been exposed or have symptoms, they should go to the doctor and get an evaluation,” Rudolph said. 

In Alameda County—without Berkeley, which has its own health department—the number of reported cases has grown exponentially. However, cautioned Linda Frank, chief of Alameda County Disease Surveillance and Epidemiology, some of the rising numbers may be due to better reporting of cases.  

Reported cases in Alameda County since 2001 are as follows: 2001, 23 cases; 2002, 41 cases; 2003, 37 cases; 2004, 84 cases; 2005, 120 cases. Statistics in Berkeley, which are not included with the rest of Alameda County, show: 1999, two cases; 2000, four cases; 2001, one case; 2002, three cases; 2003, four cases; 2004, one case; 2005, two cases; 2006, one case to date. 

Across the United States the jump has been from a historic low in 1976 with 1,010 cases reported to 11,647 cases reported in 2003, according to the CDC..