13 whooping cough cases reported in Henderson County

Public health officials say the number of whooping cough (pertussis) cases in Henderson County has increased to 13. (Photo credit: MGN)

Public health officials say the number of whooping cough (pertussis) cases in Henderson County has increased to 13.

It's an increase from eight cases reported the previous week.

County health officials say whooping cough is a serious respiratory infection caused by the pertussis bacteria that affects the lungs and breathing tubes. It's easily spread when someone with the infection coughs or sneezes.

A Pisgah High School student was first diagnosed with pertussis in mid-November. By the end of the month, the illness had turned up in five other Henderson County schools.

Approximately 1,000 people in schools and the community have been identified as having close contact with someone who has whooping cough, according to the county's department of health.

Health officials say symptoms can begin up to 21 days after exposure and can start much like the common cold (sneezing, runny nose, mild cough). Coughing fits that may cause vomiting and make it hard to breathe can begin 1-2 weeks after first symptoms and can last for months.

"The bacteria causes your sputum or your phlegm to be very, very thick. It's like concrete, and that's why it's so difficult, it's so dangerous for babies, because a baby's airway is not mature enough to be able to clear that," Kristina Henderson, a nurse who specializes in preventable and communicable diseases with the Henderson County Health Department, said. "And pregnant women who could lose the baby or go into pre-term labor from [whooping cough]."

If you have been notified that you or a family member may have been exposed to whooping cough, health officials advise:

  1. If the person who had contact with a case has symptoms, stay home to keep others from getting sick and contact your doctor for appropriate care. If the doctor thinks you may have whooping cough and gives you an antibiotic, you should stay home until you finish taking the medication.
  2. If the person who had contact does NOT have symptoms but has an infant, pregnant woman or someone with a weakened immune system in their home, contact the health department or school nurse.
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