Doctor offers warning about ‘100-day cough’

FAIRMONT – Pertussis has a couple of other names: whooping cough and the 100-day cough.

If that sounds ominous, it should. The contagious respiratory infection can seriously impact people of all ages, but especially young children.

Dr. Jeff Cunningham has seen a number of confirmed cases at Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont, where he works in internal medicine and pediatrics. The majority of these patients were less than a year, a few were toddlers.

The vaccination series for pertussis is a five-step process starting at just 2 months of age, with the shot repeated at 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and once more sometime between the ages of 4-6. Cunningham also recommends a booster shot after a person turns 11.

“Immunity doesn’t last a lifetime,” he said.

He estimated most parents – 75 to 80 percent – follow through with the five-step vaccination series, which most schools require.

“The one the really gets lost is that booster at age 11,” he said.

Adolescents and adults who have not received the booster should seriously consider it – not so much for their own safety, but to protect small infants they may encounter, who are completely without protection from what can be a fatal illness.

“It’s really hard on young kids,” Cunningham said.

Once a person catches whooping cough, it’s easy to pass it along to the next person, through a cough or a sneeze. That’s because pertussis starts out seemingly innocent, with symptoms much like the common cold: a runny nose, a low-grade fever, an occasional mild cough. This catarrhal stage usually lasts about two weeks, moving into the paroxysmal stage, which can run as long as 10 weeks.

This is when the high-pitched “whoop” can be heard, which is the sound a person makes gasping for air following rapid, severe coughing fits. These paroxysms often cause severe exhaustion and sometimes vomiting. This is the point when the diagnosis is usually made, unfortunately after a person has reached the most contagious period of the disease.

“This is the most concerning phase, when complications can arise,” Cunningham said.

Antibiotics can remove the risk of spreading pertussis, but not the symptoms, for which little can be done, aside from keeping well-hydrated.

The final phase, called the convalescent stage, can last several weeks, as the coughing slowly wanes.

“I try to tell everyone, it’s called the 100-day cough. It takes quite a while to get better,” Cunningham said.

There has been some concern regarding an increase in whooping cough. During 2012, there were 48,277 cases of pertussis were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s debatable why,” said Cunningham, noting that physicians are more aware of the disease today than in recent years, and testing has improved as well.

Another possibility for the seeming uptick in pertussis could be due to more parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, out of fear of side effects, like a supposed link between vaccinations and autism, which has been debunked.