Officials with Virginia's Peninsula Health District received no reports of pertussis – commonly known as whooping cough – during the first four months this year, but received five reports of the illness in the last two months, a state health official said Tuesday.
According to Dr. Nzinga Teule-Hekima, health director for the Virginia Department of Health's Peninsula Health District, those five cases are still under investigation and have not been categorized as confirmed. The Peninsula Health District includes James City, York, Poquoson, Williamsburg and Newport News. Hampton has its own health department.
"These are provisional reports that have to go through all these different check marks to be confirmed," Teule-Hekima explained.
Pertussis is a highly contagious illness caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis. Doctors, hospitals and clinics are required to report cases of pertussis to the Virginia Department of Health, which maintains statistics by year for each health district.
The VDH reported that Virginia saw 418 cases of pertussis reported in 2013, 55 of which were located in the Peninsula Health District. In 2012, 625 cases were reported in Virginia, including 30 in the Peninsula Health District. Nationally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 24,231 cases of pertussis were reported provisionally in the U.S. in 2013, and 48,277 in 2012.
The CDC says the signs of pertussis initially include cold-like symptoms and possibly a mild cough or fever that persists for one to two weeks. In infants, symptoms may also include apnea, which is a pause in a breathing pattern. After that, a patient with pertussis will develop severe coughing fits that make breathing difficult – when the typical "whooping" sound characteristic of the illness may be heard when a patient takes an inward breath – with vomiting and fatigue possible as well. However, according to the CDC, the "whooping" sound may be absent in milder cases where a person who had been vaccinated may still catch the illness.
A patient with pertussis is often not diagnosed until the more severe symptoms develop and can be contagious for up to two weeks after the cough begins, the CDC notes. A patient taking antibiotics may not be contagious as long.
While a case is being investigated, Teule-Hekima said the VDH district offices will circulate letters within their specific jurisdictions – through places like schools and churches – to let people know it may be present without identifying the specific source due to privacy concerns.
"Our whole point is to protect public health and make sure that people have the information they need," she said.
More – Visit http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis.
Sampson can be reached at 757-345-2345.