BENNINGTON, Vt. -- More cases of whooping cough have already been reported in Vermont this year than any other over the past three decades as the state still faces a "widespread outbreak" of the disease.
The Vermont Department of Health has been tracking cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, across the state since the summer.
As of Sept. 24, there had already been 293 confirmed cases, and the number is likely over 300 on the year by this point, State Epidemiologist for Infectious Diseases Patsy Kelso said Monday. To put that in perspective, there were approximately 100 or fewer cases every year from 1999 to 2011, and from 2008 to 2010 just 41 total cases were confirmed in Vermont.
The majority of this year’s cases have come since June 1, at which time the disease began to be more frequently reported in every region of the state. The number of confirmed cases have actually picked up in the past six weeks tracked by the health department -- from Aug. 12 to Sept. 24 -- when there were 72 cases confirmed. Just two of those 72 cases were in Bennington County, although the southwest corner of the state has not escaped the disease as a previous report from June to early August included nine confirmed cases in the county.
"It is certainly statewide," Kelso said.
The up-tick in cases may have to do with an additional focus on the disease in Vermont since early August, in which time the DOH has been asking people who show signs to be tested.
Whooping cough is caused by a bacterial infection of the lungs that begins with mild upper respiratory symptoms and an irritating cough that gradually worsens to include spasms of coughing that sometimes make a "whoop" sound, short periods without breathing, or gagging or vomiting after coughing spells.
Infants are most susceptible to the dangers of whooping cough and may have less typical symptoms including gagging and difficulty breathing. People with pre-existing health conditions that may be exacerbated by the disease also face the most serious conditions.
More than half of infants less than one year of age who catch whooping cough require hospitalization. Whooping cough may lead to death, although DOH archives dating back to 2000 show it has not been listed as the cause on any death certificates in Vermont, Kelso said.
The last widespread outbreak of whooping cough in Vermont was in 1996 and 1997, when more than 550 cases were confirmed.
Health officials believe a fluctuating frequency of the disease over the years has to do with the prevalence of vaccinations. The Center for Disease Control is studying the effectiveness of vaccines as the disease has reportedly been prevalent across the county beginning this summer, although health officials are still saying vaccinations are the best way to protect against whooping cough.
Children are required to have a booster shot protecting against the disease prior to seventh grade, but Kelso said adults should also have a booster shot.
The department is asking people who have symptoms of whooping cough to visit their doctor. People with confirmed cases are supposed to stay out of school, work and other group settings until they have completed five days of antibiotic therapy.