LEAGUE CITY — Those family holiday gatherings will spread germs right along with the goodwill, doctors warn, citing an increased danger of infections, even whooping cough, this season.
Reported cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, are at the highest level in 50 years nationwide. Texas is among the states seeing an upswing to the disease that can hospitalize and even kill, especially young infants.
“It’s very concerning,” said Dr. O.W. “Skip” Brown, League City father of four and grandfather of four. “There have probably been more cases in the state in the last year or two than we’ve seen in quite a long time.”
Brown, a doctor’s son who set up his own pediatric practice in the late 1970s, has seen vaccines succeed against a number of childhood diseases. But whooping cough is making a comeback, perhaps because of unvaccinated children and adults, and perhaps because the vaccine’s effectiveness falls off over time.
“Based on reports that are coming out of Austin, we’re all very sensitized to looking for pertussis because there’s no question there’s been an upswing in the state,” he said. Brown is now medical director of the Bay Colony Pediatric Center and also medical director of Outpatient Clinic Operations, Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas Medical Branch.
Galveston County is not one of the areas of the state experiencing an increase right now. “Between 2008 and this year, we’ve experienced anywhere from 1 to 11 cases for each year,” said Kurt Koopmann, public information officer for Galveston County Health District.
“This year so far, we’ve seen seven, I think, which is not outside of what we normally see,” he said.
But the health district and Brown are on the lookout, especially as schools break for holidays and families travel to gatherings. “If you’re going to be around small children, newborn infants in particular, you should receive a booster,” Brown said.
“I think you ought to receive a booster even if you’re not because that is not a fun disease for an adult to get. It’s a difficult disease, and we can’t fix it. That’s the problem.
“We can give you medication, and that prevents you from being someone who could spread it to others, but it doesn’t cure the disease because the disease is produced by a toxin. And once that toxin is made by the bacteria, it simply has to go away over time, and it can be weeks, I mean many weeks, before a patient becomes free of symptoms from pertussis.”
His advice is simple. “Look at your vaccinations, both parents and children. And if you’re an adult and you haven’t had a pertussis booster, you probably should get one.”
Pertussis at a glance
WHO: The most vulnerable are infants and young children and can be fatal, especially in babies less than a year old. Anyone can catch the contagious disease.
HOW: Pertussis is spread by coughing or sneezing. Infants often are infected by family members or caregivers.
WARNING SIGNS: Pertussis usually starts with cold-like symptoms, maybe a mild cough or fever. After one to two weeks, severe coughing, sometimes with a “whoop” sound as you inhale, can begin. Violent and rapid coughing can cause vomiting. Symptoms are less severe if you have been vaccinated.
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR: If the child has not been fully immunized or has been exposed; if a child’s cough becomes more severe and frequent, or lips and fingertips become dark or blue; if a child becomes exhausted after coughing fits, eats poorly and vomits after coughing, call the doctor.
STATISTICS: As of Dec. 4, 2012, there were 1,758 confirmed and probable cases of pertussis in Texas.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, Texas Department of State Health Services