Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
While symptoms may appear to be similar, individuals – especially parents of infants – need to be especially aware of the differences between pertussis and the common cold.
“People of all ages get pertussis, or whooping cough, but for babies the highly contagious infection can be especially severe, even fatal,” said Chris Taylor, executive director of Cherokee County Public Health.
“In fact, about half of all infants younger than one year of age who contract pertussis will require hospitalization; one-fourth of those hospitalized will develop pneumonia, while two-thirds will have slowed or stopped breathing,” he said.
According to Public Health clinical coordinator Cheryl Hill, both colds and pertussis can start out with similar symptoms, such as a runny nose; sneezing; red, watery eyes; mild, dry cough; possible fever and congestion.
However, “symptoms of the common cold typically resolve within 3-7 days,” she said. “Unlike the common cold, pertussis symptoms begin to worsen after a week or two (as) thick mucus accumulates inside the airways of the lungs, causing uncontrollable coughing.”
These violent coughing fits can last up to 2-6 weeks and can go as long as 10 weeks, and severe, prolonged coughing attacks may provoke vomiting, cause extreme fatigue and end with a high-pitched ‘whoop’ sound during the next breath of air, she said.
“Many times, though, the characteristic ‘whoop’ is not present, and a persistent uncontrollable cough is the only sign of whooping cough,” Hill said, adding that the best option is to visit a physician for proper evaluation and treatment.
Because it poses such dire consequences for infants, public health officials suggest a strategy called “cocooning,” in which the people around them – most often family members and caregivers – get vaccinated against pertussis.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that mothers are responsible for 30 to 40 percent of infant pertussis cases, so “the first step for expectant moms is to receive a Tdap shot during each pregnancy, preferably at 27-
In addition, young siblings need to be up-to-date on their vaccinations before their baby brother or sister arrives, he said.
It is suggested that other family members who will be in contact with the newborn receive a Tdap shot at least two weeks before the baby is born, Taylor said.
These shots are available at the Public Health office, located at 510 E. Commerce in Jacksonville. For more information, contact 903-586-6191.