By: Larissa Scott

Posted at 10:02 AM, May 17, 2024 and last updated 10:02 AM, May 17, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. — Bordetella pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a very contagious respiratory illness.

It’s been on the rise recently, with a few outbreaks across the country.

“I think that the numbers probably changed due to the pandemic. Now that life has kind of resumed to normal, I don’t think it’s surprising that we’re seeing an increase in numbers,” said Dr. David Berger, pediatrician at Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care.

Although this isn’t widespread, local doctors told ABC Action News it’s likely we could see an uptick in cases in our community.

Newborns are most at risk for severe complications, but anyone can get it.

“The scary thing is with the infection of whooping cough in those young babies, there is a risk of death,” said Dr. Michelle Blanco, who is a pediatrician at USF.

“In the first week or two of the infection, it’s actually asymptomatic. So people can be infected with the whooping cough and not know,” she added.

How the symptoms develop really depends on the age of the person with the illness.

“A newborn in their first couple of months might just turn blue and stop breathing. I actually did see that happen once in my office. I literally had to start CPR right then and there,” said Berger.

For anyone a little older, it typically starts out with common cold symptoms like a runny nose, sneezing and then a pretty significant cough can develop.

“The cough is very persistent. It’ll be hard to take breaks and breaths between the cough,” said Blanco.

The cough can last for weeks or even months.

“That cough can linger for a long time, and that’s where we can sometimes hear the ‘cough of 100 days’ because that cough can linger for so long,” said Blanco.

The sound of the cough is where the illness gets its name. Doctors said to listen for a distinct “whooping” sound when someone inhales between coughs.

“Where they kind of go on like this staccato kind of cough, and they make this inspiratory sound. That’s very specific,” said Berger.

Health officials believe vaccination is the best way to prevent serious illness. Kids receive a series of vaccines up until about age 11.

Since newborns are most at risk and can’t start getting vaccinated until two months of age, the CDC has started encouraging vaccination during pregnancy after a recent study.

“My take on it is especially if a woman has had multiple doses of the vaccine in the past, which more than likely they have—five, six, seven by then. If they didn’t have a problem with it, they’re probably not going to have a problem the eighth time you take something. The adult version is weaker,” said Berger.

Doctors recommend getting a booster every 10 years.


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