Athens Review, Athens, Texas

September 5, 2013

Illness on the rise

HC among counties reporting the illness in state’s worst outbreak

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — Henderson County is among those in Texas reporting Pertussis cases this year, contributing to what state health officials are calling the worst outbreak in Texas 50 years.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has reported nearly 2,000 pertussis cases of the bacterial infection so far this year. Health officials predict the annual total likely will surpass the recent high of 3,358 cases in 2009.

DSHS public information officer Chris Van Duesen said Henderson County has had four confirmed cases of the disease often known as whooping cough already in 2013, equaling the number reported in 2012 and 2007. The county had seven cases in 2008.

Adults experiencing the illness may have to deal with nothing more than an annoying cough for several weeks. In children, pertussis can produce major complications.

“It’s especially important for those who are around newborns or young children to be vaccinated,” Van Deusen said. “The two deaths that we’ve seen this year in Texas were of babies too young to be vaccinated. It takes the people around them to protect them.”

That includes extended family, doctors and nurses who might be around newborns at any time. More than half of infants younger than one  year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized.

“Because it’s milder in adults, they might not even know they have it,” Van Deusen said. “During the first couple of weeks when it’s just cold-like symptoms and the next couple of weeks after coughing starts, that’s when it’s the most contagious.”

Early diagnosis and treatment may reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the contagious period. Doctors are required to report a suspected case of the illness within one working day.

Van Deusen said there aren’t any readily-evident contributing factors that lead to the current outbreak.

“There’s not one single thing we can point to,” Van Deusen said. “For starters, pertussis tends to be cyclical. We see peaks every few years, then it will tail off between those.”