What causes violent coughing fits and pneumonia, hospitalizes nearly 6 in 10 infants who contract it, and is highly contagious?
It's whooping cough, and as of June 30 Hennepin County health authorities had recorded nearly four times as many cases so far this year as they'd seen in all of 2011.
Cases are up across the country, including an outbreak in Washington state which the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have termed an "epidemic." While statistics broken down by city were not immediately available from the Minnesota Department of Health, the department's June 30 figures say 489 cases of pertussis have occurred in Minnesota so far this year, compared to 163 last year.
Whooping cough is a thoroughly unpleasant experience for most who contract this bacterial infection, but infants are particularly vulnerable, according to the CDC. Pertussis only kills around 1.6 percent of its infant victims, nearly six in every ten infants who catch the illness end up being hospitalized for the severe hacking fits and associated bleeding, bruising, and broken ribs the coughing can cause. In addition, around 23 percent of infants catch pneumonia while severely infected with pertussis. Many infants are infected through mothers and other family members who have the disease.
To hear what a child with pertussis sounds like during an illness-induced coughing fit, click here.
The CDC recommends that infants, young children, expectant mothers, and any adult in regular contact with children get vaccinated for the disease. Many school districts require a pertussis vaccine as a condition of enrollment. However, Minneapolis Public Schools only requires students to be up-to-date on their Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine.
Pertussis vaccines for healthy, non-pregnant adults—also called TDaP vaccines—are available by appointment at both Walgreens locations in Southwest Minneapolis, at the pharmacy attached to Windom's Cub Foods, and in every nearby Target store with a clinic attached.