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Tosa sees big jump in whooping cough cases

Sept. 13, 2010

Wauwatosa is experiencing an outbreak of whooping cough.

In a typical year, the city sees three to five cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis. Since late August, the Health Department has seven confirmed cases and is investigating another dozen potential cases, Nursing Supervisor Lori Nielsen said.

This outbreak is proving tricky because symptoms aren't the normal ones for the illness.

"It's not having the classic whoop," she said. "People think it's a common cold."

Health care workers are also making an incorrect assumption that people who are vaccinated are immune to the disease, Nielsen said. The vaccines are working because people are not being hospitalized or dying from pertussis, but they still may come down with a mild illness.

The biggest concern is that those who are infected will pass it on to infants, who have very delicate respiratory systems. Children don't get their first vaccines to protect against whooping cough until they're 2 months old, and they're not fully vaccinated until they're 18 to 24 months old.

So far, it's mostly school-age children who are getting sick. The germs get passed through breathing and touching secretions.

The initial case has been traced back to a physician who treated a patient but didn't report the illness to the city.

Anyone experiencing "unrelenting cough," coughing at night or coughing to the point of vomiting should see their doctor.

People who have gone five years since getting a tetanus vaccine should get one now because it has a pertussis component to the immunization. The Health Department is giving them free at this time.

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