Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a very contagious bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. It is also known as the “100-day cough,” a reference to the long period of time during which the infected can retain the severe coughing spells.
“This is one of those diseases we haven’t heard about in decades because prior to 1950, it was the No. 1 killer of children. The vaccine came out and that basically went away, nobody heard about it, but now it’s starting to make a comeback,” said Dr. John Torres.
Torres said the disease is especially dangerous to infants, who are unable to get vaccinated until they are 2 months old.
The disease is most often spread to babies by infected adults.
"They basically die because they can’t get enough oxygen, and that’s the whooping sound; them trying to get a breath. If you’ve ever seen a child [with the disease], you’ll never forget. It’s devastating and horrible to watch,” Torres said.
Torres explained adults may not realize they are infected with pertussis, instead thinking they just have a bad cold.
The El Paso County Department of Public Health said the increased coverage of the disease is not hype and should be taken seriously.
"There's a nationwide outbreak, statewide outbreak, and until school started, we weren't experiencing much of that in El Paso County, but we are now,” said Bill Letson, medical director of El Paso County Public Health.
The vaccine DTaP -- for diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis -- is administered to children 2, 4 and 6 months with boosters at 15-18 months and at 4-6 years of age.
The newer vaccine, Tdap ---- for tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis -- is available for adolescents and adults as a booster to the primary childhood series and costs between $50-80.
Torres and Letson recommend adults over the age of 65 and anybody who comes in contact with infants get vaccinated. Torres said this includes kids and adolescents between the ages of 11 and 18.
El Paso County Public Health is offering free Tdap shots, along with flu vaccination, for licensed and home care child care workers. There will be a workshop on Nov. 10 and Dec. 8 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The shots will be provided at the Fire Department Complex at 375 Printers Parkway in Colorado Springs.