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Health Advisory: Pertussis Confirmed in Sullivan County

Liberty, NY – The Sullivan County Public Health Department has confirmed three (3) unrelated cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, among children less than 2 years of age in different geographic regions of the County.

Public Health Director Nancy McGraw stated, “In 2016, the County had an outbreak of 36 confirmed cases but only 6 cases in 2017. Pertussis has not been an issue of concern for several years, but we are now seeing the potential for another large increase of cases due to Statewide concerns about a lack of immunizations or delayed immunizations among children.” 

“The confirmed patients and their close contacts are being treated,” she continued. “We are working to identify exposures and any other cases to try to limit further spread.”

What Is Pertussis?

Pertussis (whooping cough) is a highly contagious disease that is spread through the air by cough. Whooping cough spreads through the bacteria Bordetella pertussis, and anyone exposed to it can get sick. It is known for the whooping sound people make when gasping for air after a coughing fit.

It begins with cold symptoms and coughs. The bacteria that cause whooping cough spread easily through coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others. People are most infectious during the first two weeks after the cough begins. Whooping cough is known to spread within households. Babies often catch it from siblings, parents, grandparents, and other members of their extended family.

Pertussis is highly communicable, with a secondary attack rate of 80% among susceptible household contacts. Complications of pertussis in infants (under a year old) can include pneumonia, seizures, encephalopathy or death. 

The average incubation period is 4-21 days (average 7-10 days) but, rarely, can be as long as 42 days. The bacteria Bordetella pertussis is commonly transmitted by respiratory routes through contact with respiratory droplets, or by direct contact with airborne droplets of respiratory secretions. Transmission occurs less frequently by contact with freshly contaminated articles of an infected person.

Signs and Symptoms of Pertussis

  • Acute cough illness of any duration, with isolation of B. pertussis from a clinical specimen (culture); OR
  • Cough illness lasting at least two (2) weeks, with at least one sign or symptom of pertussis AND PCR test positive for pertussis; OR
  • Cough illness lasting at least two (2) weeks, with at least at one sign or symptom of pertussis AND contact with a laboratory-confirmed case of pertussis.
  • Paroxysms (fits of coughing)
  • “Whoop” sound when trying to catch breath after coughing
  • Vomiting as a result of coughing so hard
  • Apnea (pauses in breathing with or without turning blue – infants aged less than a year old)

If your child develops any severe signs or symptoms listed above, call your doctor right away, go to an urgent care center or local emergency room, or call 911.

Preventive Actions

Children in a prekindergarten setting should be age-appropriately immunized. The DTaP vaccine is required for children entering school in New York State. Children starting the series on time should receive a 5-dose series of DTaP vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 through 18 months and at 4 years or older. The fourth dose may be received as early as age 12 months, provided at least 6 months have elapsed since the third dose.

Sullivan County Public Health provides a monthly immunization clinic on the second Tuesday of every month from 3-6 p.m. at the Gladys Olmsted Building, 50 Community Lane, Liberty. Appointments are required for the immunization clinic. For those who are uninsured or under- insured, Public Health provides a sliding fee scale.

Please bring in proof of insurance and immunization records for your child. Children under age 19 and college students are also welcome. Please call (845) 292-5910, ext. 0 for more information, or to schedule an appointment.