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Whooping cough makes county-wide comeback thanks to people not being vaccinated


Whooping cough is making an uninvited comeback in St. Lawrence County this year.

Eleven cases have been reported so far across the county according to the county Public Health Department.

The illness, known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection of the respiratory system spread easily by contact with the residue of an infected person’s cough or sneeze. It can last for 10 weeks in some cases.

“It’s droplet born,” Nancy A. Wood, infection prevention specialist at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, said.

“There are large drops that go out about three to six feet after a person sneezes,” Mrs. Wood said and it’s those droplets that spread the illness either by landing directly on someone or on a surface that another person will brush up against.

Whooping cough is relatively easy to detect thanks to the long-lasting coughing fits it induces.

“The child coughs and coughs and coughs until they vomit and then they go through this process all over again,” Lorraine B. Kourofsky, interim director of the county Public Health Department, said.

The coughing fits often lead to the infected person having a difficult time breathing and making a “whooping” sound as they try to catch their breath, said Mrs. Wood – hence the name of the illness.

This year’s county-wide outbreak is much worse than it’s been in recent memory.

Mrs. Wood said it’s rare for her staff to see any cases of whooping cough and Mrs. Kourofsky said it’s uncommon for there to be more than two or three cases of it in the entire county.

So what’s causing the outbreak?

While it’s not easy to identify exactly where the outbreak originated, Mrs. Wood said people who have not been vaccinated are picking up the illness and spreading it to vulnerable populations.

“The biggest reason for the spread is that older people who haven’t gotten whooping cough vaccination are getting whooping cough and then giving it to the children,” Mrs. Wood said.

Mrs. Wood added that there are also some people who have just chosen not to vaccinate their children, leaving them vulnerable to the illness.

Children are the most at risk for this illness because they don’t have any built-in immunity to the illness and more serious complications can arise.

Mrs. Kourofsky said most children begin a series of vaccinations when they are two-months old but before that they are especially vulnerable.

For that reason Mrs. Wood said “We started doing what they call cocooning. When a woman comes in and delivers her baby we offer to vaccinate anybody who is going to be a caregiver of the infant.”

Parents, grandparents and extended family members are all possible carriers of the illness.

Mrs. Wood also recommends women get vaccinated with each pregnancy to avoid passing the illness on to their children. This practice could carry some of the vaccination over to the baby, she said.

But anyone at any age can get the illness and should get vaccinated, Mrs. Wood said.

To learn more about whooping cough or about getting vaccinated call the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department at 386-2325, or contact your primary care provider.

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