Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

September 5, 2012

Whooping cough on rise in area

ASHLAND — Cases of whooping cough are on the rise in Boyd and surrounding counties, although health officials say the situation is not yet at “outbreak” or epidemic status.

“There has been an increase in our area. In the five counties of the FIVCO district we have had 10 cases, which is a huge increase from what we normally have. We have had some children, but it’s mostly adults,” said Kristy Bolen, senior regional epidemiologist for the FIVCO area, which includes Boyd, Greenup, Carter, Lawrence and Elliott counties. “I think the state has already had 350 cases this year. I think we’re about to double what we had last year.”

Bolen theorized the area has seen more adults with whooping cough, or pertussis, because most adults have not received any immunization against the illness since they were in sixth grade, or about 12 years old.

“The last time most people get it is when they are 12 years old and it has waned for many adults,” Bolen said, adding some people do get a pertussis booster if they are injured and need a tetanus shot, although they are often unaware of it. Anyone who is the caregiver of a child less than two months old should also be immunized, Bolen said, explaining infants typically receive their first whooping cough vaccine at two months old.

While whooping cough cases have officially increased, Bolen said the numbers may also be a reflection of increased awareness and encouragement for physicians to test for pertussis when patients have specific symptoms.

Whooping cough is a very contagious disease caused by bacteria, Bolen reported, adding it is usually mild in older children and adults, but it often causes serious problems in very young children (infants less than one year of age). Pertussis symptoms have two stages. The first stage, which lasts one to two weeks, begins like a cold with a runny nose, sneezing, mild fever, and cough which slowly gets worse. The second stage is marked by uncontrolled coughing spells and a whooping noise (in young children) when the person inhales. During severe coughing spells, a person may vomit or become blue in the face from lack of air. Between coughing spells, the person often appears to be well. The coughing spells may be so bad that it is hard for babies to eat, drink, or breathe normally. This coughing stage may last for six or more weeks. Adults, teens, and vaccinated children often have milder symptoms that mimic bronchitis or asthma. Pertussis is spread when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks. The first symptoms usually appear about seven to 10 days after a person has been exposed.

Anyone who desires a whooping cough/pertussis booster can get one through their personal physician or by calling their local health department. Bolen said this area does not have the same kind of whooping cough numbers witnessed in northern Kentucky where special clinics have been set to administer the vaccine. “We are not at outbreak status yet, but we are above normal,” Bolen cautioned.

“The health department currently has a limited supply of free ‘DTaP’ vaccine for adults ages 19 and older. Patients will just need to pay the $22 administration fee to receive the vaccination. Persons needing a booster can call 324-7181 for an appointment,” Bolen said. “We are really trying to encourage vaccination in the community and for adults to check their vaccination status to see if they are up to date. As we get older it’s easy to forget that adults need immunizations, too.”

Citing today’s increasingly mobile society, Bolen said whooping cough is easily spread as people travel to and from other areas. For more information contact the Ashland/Boyd County Health Department at (606) 324-7181, or by visiting the CDC website at CDC.gov.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at


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