Whooping Cough cases on the rise

Peds ED Logo_RGBTMC’s Pediatric Emergency Department is issuing a heads-up about a recent increase in cases of pertussis, which is also known as whooping cough.  So far this year, nine cases have been confirmed – eight of those coming in just since May.

At this point, the Pima County Health Department is NOT considering this an outbreak or epidemic.  TMC simply wants to make people aware, and take the opportunity to educate the public.

Symptoms are similar to an upper respiratory infection:  Cough, cold, congestion and fever.  How can you tell if your child’s cough is caused from a cold?  Could it be croup?  How do you know if it’s whooping cough?  You may hear a croup cough described as a barking cough that sounds like a seal.  Whooping cough is a cough that does not stop.  It’s especially dangerous to those with compromised immune systems – the very young, and the very old.

“It’s very dangerous for young children, especially babies, as it affects their ability to breathe,” explained Tammy Myers, RN.  “Babies can cough so hard and so long that oftentimes they appear to be choking, and can turn blue.  They come into TMC’s Pediatric Emergency Department, and can end up in the ICU with pneumonia where they may need help breathing.  We especially want to protect the little ones who don’t have much immunity on board yet.  We also want to protect our elderly and make sure they are vaccinated and seeing their provider regularly.  They too can get very ill.”

The good news – pertussis is preventable.

The best way to avoid it?  Get vaccinated.  There are vaccines for infants, children, preteens, adults and seniors.  The childhood vaccine is called DTaP.  The pertussis booster vaccine for adolescents and adults is called Tdap.  It’s a combination of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines.

Make sure everyone in your family has immunizations that are up to date, and that everyone is receiving regular checkups.

Rest assured that TMC takes care of these patients quickly, and in a manner not to expose others.  All safety measures are strictly followed.  If a patient comes in with a suspected case of whooping cough, masks are immediately placed on everyone.  The patient is placed in a negative pressure room that is like an isolation area so that others are not exposed.

In the event you are exposed to pertussis, or start to develop symptoms, let your physician know right away.  Your provider may prescribe medication to treat you.  Also, it’s imperative that you wear a mask to the doctor’s office, or ask them to provide you with one immediately so that you are not spreading it to our community.

Click here to see KGUN 9 On Your Side’s coverage of this story.

Kids have their shots for school; now what about you?

You’ve picked up the school supplies, bought the new clothes and made sure your children are up to date on their vaccinations.

Now, what about you? Many adults aren’t current on their vaccinations, thinking that the shots they received in childhood still offer immunity from disease. This lack of knowledge, while understandable, can be lethal – not only for you, but for those around you.

Neonatologist Dr. Moira Richards, medical director of TMC for Children, notes that “we’re in the midst of a whooping cough outbreak in children. The source of infection for these young children is usually adults whose immunity has waned from their earlier vaccines or disease.”

We are reminded of a death just this past spring of an infant in Maricopa County who was too young to be vaccinated, yet contracted and died from whooping cough, also know as pertussis. The saddest part of this story is that this death was preventable. We count on the herd effect to protect those who cannot be immunized. This herd immunity is in decline as parents decide not to vaccinate their children and as we forget how these diseases ravished our communities.

One physician, Dr. Sterling Simpson, pediatric pulmonary specialist with Children’s Pulmonary Specialists, doesn’t mince his words when it comes to the disease:  “Whooping cough can be a lethal disease, especially to infants.”

Our blog last spring at TMC For Children,  Take Action – Stopping Whooping Cough in its Tracks, speaks to the dangers of adults not keeping up on their immunizations. Those around infants are especially urged  to be current on TDaP, the vaccination for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

And what about those other two bacterial diseases that the vaccine prevents: tetanus and diphtheria?

From the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

Tetanus (lockjaw) is a serious disease that causes painful tightening of the muscles, usually all over the body. It can lead to “locking” of the jaw so the victim cannot open his mouth or swallow. Tetanus leads to death in about 1 in 10 cases.

The herd immunity doesn’t apply to tetanus. The organism can be found in the  soil, dust and environment of most places around the world. And a small cut or puncture can lead to infection. A person who contracts tetanus is in serious trouble.

Diphtheria, which causes a thick covering in the back of the throat, can lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure and even death. Before widespread use of the diphtheria vaccine, it was a leading cause of death among children. Though well controlled in the United States, diphtheria is still endemic in many parts of the world. It is spread from person to person, and about 1 out of 10 adults will die from the disease, but for children, the rate is 1 out of 5.

With school back in session, is it time to get up to date on your shots? Speak with your healthcare provider to see what boosters you may be in need of to keep yourself and those around you safe.


Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461