Area health officials are cautioning that whooping cough, which notably broke out in Johnson County this past spring, continues to be a problem throughout the Kansas City region.
The situation has spurred ten area health departments to issue a joint call urging people, especially pregnant women and adults who are around infants, to get a booster shot for the disease. Health officials are also encouraging parents and caretakers to make sure kids are up to date on their vaccine schedule.
Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, head of infectious disease at Children’s Mercy Hospital, has seen the recent uptick in cases firsthand, with the hospital identifying as many as one positive case of whooping cough a day in recent weeks.
“This probably is going to be the largest year that I’ve seen at Children’s Mercy Hospital since I started here in 1984,” says Dr. Jackson, who also expects to see more cases once kids return to school this fall.
Within the metro area, Johnson County, Ks. and Kansas City, Mo. appear to have been hit the hardest. Click on the map below for more specific county and city updates.
Regional Whooping Cough Update: County & City Breakdown
View Regional Whooping Cough Update: County Breakdown in a larger map
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial infection. It’s often characterized by an intense cough that comes in waves and can last for months. It's especially serious for infants, and it was a leading cause of illness and death among kids until a vaccine came out for it in the 1940's. A booster shot was developed in 2006. Even so, the disease has been making a comeback lately.
Nationwide, whooping cough has reached its highest level in decades, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting more than 20,000 cases so far this year. At least nine children have died. Areas with the biggest outbreaks include the Pacific Northwest.
Dr. Jackson says the outbreak in the Kansas City area has not reached the epidemic levels experienced in places like Washington State, but that the problem here and elsewhere is likely due to a combination of factors. The vaccine’s effectiveness wanes over time; there may be a coverage gap between the time when kids get their first vaccine for the disease and a booster shot; many people are choosing not to vaccinate themselves or their kids; older children and adults may not realize they have the disease and continue spreading it to others. Getting the vaccine and understanding a child's vaccine schedule may also be a challenge.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared Missouri to be one of 18 states with whooping cough rates higher than the national average. As of Monday, there were 508 reported cases among 39 counties and three city health jurisdictions in the state. That’s more cases than all of last year, but not as many as in 2009.
The Northwest District, particularly the Kansas City area, has an elevated level of whooping cough activity, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The Eastern District, which includes St. Louis, and the Southwest District, mainly in Springfield, are also elevated, but not as much as the Northwest.
So far this year, Kansas has had 155 confirmed cases across 19 counties. According to Dr. Jackson at Children's Mercy, one whooping-cough related infant death occurred several months ago in Wichita (the Kansas Department of Health has not confirmed this).
As of last week, Johnson County had 65 confirmed cases of whooping cough, the most of any county in the state. The outbreak was first identified in schools. Franklin county came in second with 21 cases, and Sedgwick came in third with 15 cases. State epidemiologist, Charlie Hunt, says the incidence has been highest among children 10 to 14 years of age, but it has also been high among children 0 to 9 years of age.
- Fact Sheet about Whooping Cough from the Johnson County Health Department
- National Update from the CDC on the Whooping Cough
- "What you need to know" about Whooping Cough from the CDC
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