How to keep kids safe from whooping cough illness

Updated: Jul 21, 2012, 11:41 AM IST

Zeenews Bureau

Atlanta: An appalling menace called the whooping cough which once haunted US children the most, with almost thousand cases reported in a year, is back.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is an illness that causes severe, almost uncontrollable coughing. It can occur to people of all ages.

The symptoms of this illness in young children include coughing fits, whooping noise, vomiting or breathlessness.

While in adults or older children, these symptoms are usually milder.

Although lesser number of cases of the illness were reported after a vaccine came for the disease but it never totally disappeared, and now again, the number of US whooping cough cases has risen to around 18,000 so far this year.

With the rising number of cases, health officials say this is shaping up to be the worst national epidemic in more than 50 years for the highly contagious disease.

Some advices that can be of help are:

FIRST STEP: Make sure your child is up-to-date on vaccination against whooping cough, or pertussis. There are five doses, with the first shot at age 2 months and the last between 4 and 6 years. A booster shot is recommended around 11 or 12. It`s part of the routine childhood shots that also protect against diphtheria and tetanus.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Adults who are around kids should get a whooping cough booster shot so that they don`t spread it to young children, who are most vulnerable to this disease. Nine young children have died so far this year. The booster for teens and adults, approved in 2005, was combined with the tetanus booster that adults are supposed to get every 10 years or so.

VACCINE NOT PERFECT: No vaccine is 100 percent effective, and its ability to fend off infections wanes as years pass. But even diminished vaccine protection is better than nothing, and usually people who are vaccinated have milder cases. In this current epidemic, experts are investigating whether the childhood shots and the booster offer less lasting protection than previously thought.

WATCH FOR SYMPTOMS: The illness typically starts with cold-like symptoms that can include a runny nose, congestion, low-grade fever and a mild cough. Infants may have a pause in breathing, called apnea. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises parents to see a doctor if they or their children develop prolonged or severe coughing fits, vomiting and exhaustion.

The disease is spread through coughing or sneezing. Whooping cough is treated with antibiotics, the earlier the better.

(With agency inputs)