Whooping cough has sickened 343 New Mexicans this year and remains at high levels, though lagging behind last year’s record-setting numbers.
So far this year, the bacterial illness has hospitalized 17 New Mexicans, including 11 infants. No pertussis deaths have been reported.
“If you are around young infants and you or someone else has a cough illness, don’t expose those babies, because it might be pertussis,” said Dr. Joan Baumbach, medical epidemiologist for the New Mexico Department of Health.
Her advice to everyone: Watch out for pertussis symptoms and get a Tdap booster shot, particularly if you expect to spend time with infants.
Infants who have yet to complete the four-shot series of vaccinations are at greatest risk of whooping cough, which is treated with antibiotics.
Health officials also recommend that all pregnant women get the Tdap vaccine to help protect their newborn infants from whooping cough. The Tdap booster guards against pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria.
Women vaccinated after 20 weeks of pregnancy transfer pertussis antibodies to newborns, helping protect them until they complete their own vaccine series, Baumbach said.
Parents should also ensure that children get a required pertussis booster dose, called DTaP, before entering elementary school, she said.
The hallmark symptom of whooping cough is a severe cough that can last for months. Symptoms usually begin 21 days after exposure, beginning with a runny nose, sneezing and a mild fever.
The United States has experienced a spike in pertussis illnesses in recent years. New Mexico and the nation had a record high number of pertussis cases in 2012 when the disease sickened 41,000 Americans and 898 New Mexicans.
Pertussis caused two New Mexico deaths last year, including one infant.
Whooping cough infections appear to be tapering off – in 2012, whooping cough had sickened 519 New Mexicans through Aug. 28, compared with this year’s year-to-date figure of 343.
Also by this time last year, pertussis had hospitalized 41 New Mexicans, including 25 infants, said David Selvage, the agency’s infectious disease epidemiologist.
But delayed reporting may show that New Mexico isn’t far off last year’s pace for pertussis illnesses and hospitalizations, Selvage said.
“We continue to see very high rates of pertussis,” he said.