NEW ORLEANS – Whooping cough has set a post-1960s record in Louisiana and state officials are asking doctors to keep an eye out for it.
Outbreaks are worse in Texas, where nearly 2,900 cases have been reported, and Arkansas, where numbers are double those of a year ago.
Louisiana’s 169 likely and confirmed cases as of mid-October breaks a record of about 160 for all of last year, said Dr. Raoult Ratard, Louisiana’s state epidemiologist.
The disease is cyclical, peaking every three to five years.
The state published a health alert about the disease Monday. Texas published a similar one in August.
Record numbers don’t mean the Bordetella pertussis germ is lurking in every cough. Last year’s vaccination-era record of 48,277 cases nationwide compares to an average of 173,000 a year from 1922 through 1947, before vaccination became widespread. About 18,500 cases were reported nationwide through Oct. 19 this year compared to 40,000 a year earlier, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Any adult likely to be around a baby should get a booster shot to avoid unknowingly spreading the extremely contagious disease, which starts with sneezing and a congested or runny nose, Ratard said.
Two deaths in Louisiana this year have been babies less than 2 months old, the age at which infants can get the first of three shots before they turn 1. The three babies who died this year in Texas were also less than 2 months old, said Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Ken Pastorick, spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, took precautions before his son, Camden, was born in July 2012.
“We asked all our family and close relatives who’d be around him to get Tdap – the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis shot. Because the Tdap shot would protect them from getting whooping cough and ultimately protect my son,” he said.
About half of all babies who get pertussis during their first year must be hospitalized, according to the CDC.
Before this year, Louisiana’s two previous deaths from pertussis were 6-week-old babies – a boy in 2003 and a girl in 2004.
There haven’t been any deaths from whooping cough for more than 10 years in Arkansas, said state health department spokeswoman Kerry Krell. She said 342 cases had been reported as of Oct. 29, up from 141 at the same time last year.
Texas had 2,874 cases as of Oct. 22, according to figures on the Texas health department website. That’s not a record, Van Deusen wrote in an email, though it’s likely the state will surpass the recent high of 3,358 from 2009. That was the highest since 5,842 in 1959.
Texas has the highest infection rate of the three states – nearly 11 cases per 100,000 residents, compared with 10 in Arkansas and less than 4 in Louisiana.
Babies may never develop a cough but instead have life-threatening pauses in breathing, according to the CDC.
Adults are likely to get a chronic cough rather than the violent, lung-emptying coughing fits interrupted by loud gasps for breath that give the disease its name.
A cold that includes a severe or prolonged cough may be whooping cough, according to the CDC. It said the cough can last 10 weeks or more, giving the alternate name “100-day cough.”