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Posted on Sat, Sep 4, 2010 : 6 a.m.

Washtenaw public health officials sound warning for whooping cough epidemic

By Juliana Keeping

Whooping cough has become a Washtenaw County epidemic.

And with the start of the school year, public health officials are sounding the warning that the highly contagious bacterial disease could gain even more momentum.

It's known as whooping cough for the "whoop" sound those with the infection make between coughing spasms as they try to breathe, and it can be fatal to infants.

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Public health officials are warning about whooping cough.

As of Friday, 94 cases have been reported in Washtenaw County in 2010. Comparatively, the total number of whooping cough cases stood at 81 in 2009; the last record year was 36 cases in 2003, according to the Washtenaw County Public Health Department.

Whooping cough - its scientific name is pertussis - is preventable.

“We’re getting into the school season, and we want to make sure that people are appropriately vaccinated and know about the disease,” said Diana Torres-Burgos, medical director for the county health department.

Torres-Burgos said the most current numbers around the county probably don’t reflect the scale of the epidemic because the disease doesn’t always present classic symptoms right away.

According to the public health department, initial symptoms appear seven to 10 days after exposure and usually include:

  • Low grade fever, runny nose, sneezing and occasional cough. The cough becomes more severe in one to two weeks.
  • During bouts of coughing, the nails and lips might turn blue from lack of air, and vomiting can occur with severe coughing episodes. 
  • People may feel and appear fairly healthy much of the time in between coughing episodes.
  • In children under 1 year old, complications include pneumonia, convulsions and, rarely, brain damage. Pertussis deaths typically occur in infants younger than 2 months. 
  • Many people cough for a month or longer.
  • Pertussis sounds like this.

An uptick in whooping cough cases has been alarming health officials around the state since 2008. It’s a growing problem nationwide.

A 3-month-old baby from St. Clair, Mich. died in February after being misdiagnosed as having a cold. Pertussis starts with symptoms that resemble the common cold.

Infants need to be vaccinated as early as 2 months, with four additional doses given by age 6.

Torres-Burgos said the health department is strongly urging teens and adults - especially those who come in contact with infants - to ask medical providers for a vaccination.

Older children and adults should ask about Tdap, the vaccine combination for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, which is new since 2005, Torres-Burgos said. Immunity does wane over the years, so if it's been a while, a booster could be in order.

The uninsured and underinsured can call the health department for information on discounted or free vaccinations at (734) 544-6700.

Juliana Keeping is a health and environment reporter for Reach her at or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter


Rork Kuick

Tue, Sep 7, 2010 : 7:08 a.m.

To contradict mhirzel, I think it is serving the public well, since I think we would benefit by greater vaccination, and lots of adults haven't had boosters. If you would make specific points, besides that the reporting was not thorough enough for you, please do so. Lots of your references make no pertinent points, and like your quoted part, seem designed to just vaguely scare people. Are you suggesting folks not get vaccines? Let's hear your unnamed "solution". B. parapertussis is out there, but perhaps not that many of the cases, and it is less severe, though it will cause the cough. Maybe antigens need to be added to the vaccines to help with that, at least in the long run. There are certainly other factors at work with pertussis, like that it tends to have cycles of high and low infection rates (about 5 year cycle), and we are perhaps at the top of the cycle. The cycles may be caused by loss of immunity - the vaccine or even getting the disease doesn't keep you immune that long. Here's a whopper review of science about it: Here's a short readable blog piece:


Sat, Sep 4, 2010 : 10:49 p.m.

One thing that many people seem to forget is to stay home when you or your children are "coming down with somthing" As a childcare provider I very often see parents bringing their children into a daycare setting (where there are many other children and staff to consider) with low grade fevers...too low to send them home much thanks to fever reducers. I listen to parents blame teething,a bad nights sleep,recent vaccinations...on and on it goes. Almost NEVER do I hear " Good Morning...out of consideration for you and your family and all the other children and their families I will be keeping my child home today" Keep you sick kids at home! Oh by the way...if you are one of those parents that gives your child a dose of motrin on the way out the door in hopes to get at least 6 hours of work in...shame on you for being selfish and inconsiderate. Don't forget that often times your childcare provider knows your own child better than you do and WE CAN TELL!


Sat, Sep 4, 2010 : 8:14 p.m.

The disease can also be brought in by people entering the country illegally or legally from countries that don't immunize for it. We used to check people out for diseases before they entered the country to protect our citizens (they weren't allowed in until they recovered), but these days due to liberal policies and political correctness, it's not done.

Judy McAtee

Sat, Sep 4, 2010 : 6:41 p.m.

took my 10 year old daughter to her pediatrician mid-july, and was told "viral cough." 2 weeks later, her 8 year old sister began coughing, so i returned with both kids. sure enough, they were both positive with pertussis. they had, and continue to have, a strange, not-like-any-other cough; strictly episodic, with the occasional emesis. no fever, no other symptoms except 5-10 coughing episodes a day. Other than a cough, my kids were perfectly fine. and yes, my kids' immunizations are UTD! watch out! pertussis is looming around out there!

aubrey wheaton

Sat, Sep 4, 2010 : 12:03 p.m.

They may have watched "Raising Arizona"? They may have learned you got to get your "Dip-Tet", but didn't get their pertussis?


Sat, Sep 4, 2010 : 8:49 a.m.

I had this last Spring and it has taken months to recover. I recommend that adults get their booster as well.

Elaine F. Owsley

Sat, Sep 4, 2010 : 8:13 a.m.

Make that "protect" their pets.

Elaine F. Owsley

Sat, Sep 4, 2010 : 8:05 a.m.

As someone who had whooping cough as a child, I urge parents to have their child protected. It was by far the scariest, nastiest disease I had, and I had them all before vaccines were available. Not only that, but my mother caught it from me and was sick enough that the doctor came to the house. Some people protest their pets with shots, but not their children. The consequences could be terrible.


Sat, Sep 4, 2010 : 7:45 a.m.

Also, people don't get children vaccinated, and so they put everyone at risk. The disease is far worse than the vaccine.


Sat, Sep 4, 2010 : 6:18 a.m.

Another aggravating component of this is the fact that many young children were given a booster dose instead of the correct child's dose. The booster dose is smaller and is intended for older children and adults. The problem apparently stems from similarity in the common names for both. Tdap is the booster. DTaP is the child's vaccine. A medical study found the mixups to be prevalent: A child given only a booster vaccine will not develop sufficient immunity and is at risk. This is worse than for a child who received no vaccine because the parents will presume the child is protected and be less vigilant. The lower case letters in the booster indicate that it contains a smaller dosage of antigen for those diseases. So, this could apply to diphtheria as well, however, that's fairly uncommon. If you are unsure, you should confirm your child's vaccination record and check with your pediatrician's office. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices first reported this to medical professionals in 2006 and offered many suggestions to minimize this problem but it says it still identifies the problem. Parents should confirm the vaccine by manufacturer's brand name. They are given in the article.