An outbreak of whooping cough has spread to the high country recently, which public health officials say is partly due to a weak vaccine administered in the late 1990s.
“We’re finding that the vaccines given years ago weren’t strong enough,” said Wilkes County Health Department spokesman Pam Muncus in a press release.
Candi Gambill, public health nurse: lead in communicable disease, said, “It’s fair to say there have been noticeable increases in whooping cough cases throughout the Appalachian region, including in Ashe County.”
Until recently, there haven’t been any cases of whooping cough in Ashe County.
Gambill said, “There have been several cases that meet the definition of whooping cough in the area. We have been investigating cases as the doctors report them to us. Everybody is encouraged to get a Tdap vaccination if they haven’t already received one.”
Also, the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC) revised its recommendation on the Tdap vaccine and now urges all adults to get a single dose from their health care provider.
According to Gambill, whooping cough vaccinations are free until Oct. 1. This is because North Carolina has been providing vaccines to help weed out whooping cough from the population. After Oct. 1, the vaccine will still be available, but will only be free for some.
Whooping cough has been noticed in surrounding counties as well.
Anne Absher, health director of the Wilkes County Health Department, said there have been 22 confirmed cases of whooping cough in Wilkes County.
Absher also said there have been cases of whooping cough in Wilkes County’s school system. This prompted the school system to seek out the Wilkes County Health Dept., which administered vaccinations to students and faculty at Wilkes County’s four high schools. Afterward, the health dept. opened vaccinations to the public.
Counting the vaccinations given at the health department and those given at the free clinics at Wilkes’ high schools, “There have been around 1,600 whooping cough vaccinations administered to the public in Wilkes County,” said Absher.
Ashe County’s school system has also taken precautions against whooping cough.
Superintendent Travis Reeves said the school system has uploaded information about whooping cough onto its website to notify parents and students. He also said they have stayed in contact with Gambill, so the school nurses and employees are aware of the symptoms of whooping cough.
“The most important thing is that everyone knows the health department is giving free vaccinations, and that everyone should seek medical attention if they have symptoms of whooping cough,” said Gambill.
The main symptom of whooping cough is severe coughing within one or two weeks after contracting the illness. Children with whooping cough often have coughing fits, especially at night, with a high-pitch “whoop” sound. The “whoop” indicates a struggle to breathe. Whooping cough can last up to a month.