SEBRING - Two cases of pertusis, better known as whooping cough, have been reported in Highlands County over the weekend, and health officials are encouraging residents to ensure they have been vaccinated against the disease.
The respiratory disease, which is considered very infectious, affected two "very young" kids, said the Florida Department of Health in Highlands County spokesman Tom Moran.
They are undergoing treatment and the two cases are the first ones reported this year in Highlands County.
Whooping cough is caused by bacteria that spreads by coughing and sneezing and can cause serious illness in infants, children and adults, a health department news release states.
"Symptoms of pertussis are runny nose, congestion, mild fever (under 102 degrees), sneezing, vomiting caused by excessive coughing, a bad cough lasting more than two weeks and shortness of breath," the news release adds.
Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe, states the Centers for Disease Control.
"After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths which result in a 'whooping' sound. Pertussis most commonly affects infants and young children and can be fatal, especially in babies less than 1 year of age," the CDC adds.
Coughing fits due to pertussis infection can last for up to 10 weeks or more; sometimes known as the "100-day cough."
The best way to protect against pertussis is immunization, the health department adds, with DTaP for infants and children and with Tdap for preteens, teens and adults.
Both vaccines are available at the Florida Department of Health in Highlands County and are available free for children up to age 18 and for adults age 19-26 who are uninsured or underinsured.
"Immunization is a shared responsibility. Families, healthcare professionals, and public health officials must work together to help protect the entire community," said Mary Kay Burns, administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Highlands County.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that pregnant women receive the whooping cough vaccine during each pregnancy" said Barbara Moore, health department nursing director. "The best time for this vaccine is the 27th through 36th week of pregnancy. Vaccination of all adults, parents, grandparents and caregivers, as well as siblings in the household, also provides a cocoon of protection around the newborn infant."
The spread of disease can also be reduced by following these steps:
Cover your cough or sneeze with cloth.
Wash your hands often with soap and water, use hand sanitizer if soap and water is unavailable.
Stay home from work or school if you are sick.
In 2010, 27,550 cases of pertussis were reported in the U.S., but many more go undiagnosed and unreported, the CDC states.
This is the most number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1959 when 40,000 cases were reported. In 2011, 18,719 cases were reported.
Since the 1980s, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of pertussis in the U.S. In 2010, an increase in reported cases among 7-10 year olds was seen.
For more information on vaccines or an appointment call the Florida Department of Health in Highlands County at (863) 386-6040.