Boone County pertussis cases found

Boone County Health Department officials announced that they are following up on two cases of pertussis in a Boone County family. The Health Department is asking area physicians to help control any further spread of pertussis by having a higher degree of suspicion for clients with a persistent cough and promptly reporting any suspected cases. School nurses have also been provided with information about pertussis.

Pertussis, commonly known as “whooping cough,” is a bacterial infection that can be effectively prevented through childhood immunization. The ill children and family contacts are currently being treated with antibiotics and are voluntarily keeping the children isolated. Health Department personnel are following up with other close contacts.

Despite immunization efforts, pertussis in the United States has increased 400 percent since 1980. In Illinois, during the past decade, the number of cases has risen from 111 in 1994 to 320 in 2003.

Pertussis can be easily spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing. An infected person is contagious from just before the onset of symptoms until up to three weeks after symptoms start. Although it is generally not a severe disease for adults, it can be a serious illness and cause death, particularly among children younger than 1 year of age. Symptoms usually appear five to 10 days after exposure, but can take as long as 21 days to develop. Initial symptoms are similar to a common cold—runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and mild, occasional cough. The cough gradually becomes severe and, after one to two weeks, the patient has spasmodic bursts of numerous, rapid coughs.

The characteristic high-pitched “whoop” comes from breathing in after a coughing episode. During such an attack, the patient may turn blue, vomit and become exhausted. Between coughing attacks, the patient usually appears normal. Some patients do not have the whooping-type of cough and may only experience a persistent cough.

The Boone County Health Department urges parents to be sure that their children are up to date on their immunizations. The five-dose pertussis vaccine is recommended for every child beginning at 2 months of age. Other doses are given at 4, 6 and 15 months, and a final dose at 4 to 6 years of age. The vaccine is given in the same shot with diphtheria and tetanus and is required for school attendance.

“Unfortunately, some children do not receive immunizations according to the recommended schedule,” said Doug Beardsley, Boone County Health Department administrator. “Despite efforts to remind them, many parents forgot about their children’s immunizations until they enter school, and others simply choose not to vaccinate their children for personal or religious reasons.”

Illinois law requires that children attending any public, private, independent or parochial elementary or secondary school be immunized against nine diseases, and children entering school for the first time, kindergarten, fifth and ninth grades, must have a school physical examination.

“One of the easiest and most effective ways to help children grow up healthy and free from the effects of serious, preventable diseases is to make sure they get their immunizations,” Beardsley said. “Vaccinations not only protect those who receive them, but they also contribute to the well-being of everyone by reducing the chance for these diseases to spread.” State law does provide exemptions from the immunization requirements for religious or medical reasons.

An outbreak of pertussis occurred earlier this year in several counties in northeastern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. It is not known if the current Boone County cases are related to the earlier cases.

For more information about pertussis, visit the Illinois Department of Public Health Web site at or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at

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