This isn’t the sort of content I usually put in this blog, but I think it is important content to get the word out, and I want a wide distribution, so I am putting it in my blog that gets a wider readership. It seems to me, that this is part of the role and responsibility of being active in healthcare social media.
My entire family had whooping cough in December. Being a medical librarian, I went out and learned about it. I learned some very interesting things. Since then, I have been astonished how many people I have met who were going through having whooping cough without even knowing that was what they had, which resulted in some surprising conversations. Here I hope to share some of the misunderstandings and assumptions that I’ve encountered, and which may be contributing to the local spread of this disease.
I am a librarian and not a doctor, so I welcome comments or clarifications from real healthcare professionals.
What Grownups Think They Know About Whooping Cough (But Don’t)
1. “We don’t have any more whooping cough in the USA.” “Didn’t they wipe that out?”
There are epidemic levels of whooping cough (a.k.a. pertussis, a.k.a. Bordetella pertussis) in many places throughout the United States. California has a particularly bad situation right now, but we have a declared epidemic locally, right here in Washtenaw Country.
2. “I’ve been vaccinated, so I’m safe, right?” “But I had this before, so I can’t catch it again.”
The whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine or immunity from having it only lasts 5 to 10 years, so even if you have been vaccinated you may be vulnerable or need a booster. Even if you have a current booster, the protection is not a 100% guarantee, but only an 85% guarantee. Doctors recommend treating all the in-home relatives of people with a confirmed diagnosis, even if they’ve been vaccinated.
3. “All I have is a cold.”
Most people who get whooping cough don’t know they have it. In adults, whooping cough often looks like a cold, and people don’t realize that they have something else until after they have been sick for a couple weeks already. At that point, the antibiotics don’t provide a full cure, and they have already infected everyone around them. This is HIGHLY contagious. Around 90% of people who are exposed and not vaccinated will catch it. In my family it was 100%. Experts believe that only 5-10% of whooping cough cases are ever diagnosed and reported. You need to go to the doctor sooner rather than later. Don’t wait too long! The Chinese call this the “100-day cough” for a reason.
4. “But my cough doesn’t go whoop, so it isn’t whooping cough.”
In adults, they may not ever develop the typical cough that has the whoop, and may only get a ‘normal’ cough. Even with kids, they might not get the whoop to their cough until after the first couple weeks of being ill. This makes it harder to find out what illness they have. This is not easy to diagnose, so don’t guess yourself, let the doctor figure it out. By the time the whoop shows up you’ve waited too long. You endanger those around you, and this does kill people, especially very young babies.
5. “But no one I know has whooping cough, so it can’t be that.”
Whooping cough is all through the public schools in our area. If you know any children, visit people who have children, work with people who have children, ride the bus, go to church, attend public performances or events, you have probably been exposed. After you’ve been exposed, symptoms usually start about a week later, but can start anytime from 3 days later to 21 days, sometimes even up to 42 days! Basically, you don’t know if you’ve been exposed.
6. “If I didn’t go to the doctor early enough, then it doesn’t make any difference. I’ll just tough it out and take cough syrup.”
Antibiotics work best during the first two weeks of the illness, providing both cure and preventing spread of the disease. After that, the damage has mostly been done by the condition, but you can still help keep other people safe. People who may have whooping cough should go to the doctor as soon as they become ill, even if they aren’t sure. This helps protect those around them and prevent spread of the disease. Everyone they live with should also be given the antibiotics, even if they were vaccinated. The Department of Public Health recommends that you stay home for the first 5 days you are on antibiotics. They also mention that cough syrup isn’t very helpful and they don’t recommend it.
7. “We don’t have to worry here. If there was a problem, surely they would tell people.”
The whooping cough epidemic information was posted to the Washtenaw County Department of Public Health last summer, in June and July. Announcements in the various news publications were repeated in June, July, September, November, and December. Notice was sent home from my son’s school in October. It was posted to the Facebook page or Twitter streams for the County Public Health Department, Michigan Disease Surveillance System, Packard Health, Village Pharmacy, and probably more.
Don’t blame yourself for not seeing them. I missed this, too. But now that we know, let’s spread the word. Word of mouth works best.
* A tickle in the back of your throat, that spreads up and down from the starting spot
* Runny nose
* Stuffy nose
* Red, itchy or watery eyes
* A mild fever, or no fever
* Dry cough
* See a doctor FAST if you get something that looks like a cold, especially if you’ve been around kids or will be.
* Stay home if you aren’t sure yet whether you have whooping cough, and for the first 5 days of antibiotics. This is to keep others safe.
* Take all the medication you’ve been given, exactly the way the doctor told you.
* Drink lots of fluids, especially honey with lemon in hot water.
* Encourage your friends and coworkers to stay home if they are sick and see a doctor if there is any doubt at all about whether they have whooping cough or not.
* Don’t tough it out.
* Don’t go to work or school with anything that seems like a cold.
* Don’t go visit friends or go to church or school or parties.
1. Washtenaw County Public Health: Pertussis (Whooping Cough) at Epidemic Levels: http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/departments/public_health/news/2010-news-stories/pertussis-whooping-cough-cases-at-all-time-high
2. National Foundation for Infectious Diseases: Whooping Cough (pertussis): http://www.adultvaccination.org/whooping_cough_vaccine_pertussis_vaccination_adult_immunization.htm ; New York State Department of Heatlh: Pertussis (whooping cough): http://www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/pertussis/fact_sheet.htm
3. Bocka, Joseph J. Pediatrics, Pertussis. eMedicine, May 26, 2009. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/803186-overview
4. CDC: Pertussis (Whooping Cough) – What You Need To Know: http://www.cdc.gov/Features/Pertussis/ ; Mayo Clinic: Whooping Cough: Symptoms: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/whooping-cough/DS00445/DSECTION=symptoms ; healthfinder: Health Tip: Does Your Child Have Pertussis?: http://www.healthfinder.gov/news/newsstory.aspx?docID=641831
5. Ann Arbor Public Schools: Pertussis (Whooping Cough) on the Rise in Washtenaw County: http://www.a2schools.org/aaps.news/news___events#pertussis
6. MedlinePlus: Pertussis: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001561.htm
MORE INFORMATION (Washtenaw County Public Health):
Parents & Caregivers of Infants:
Parents & Caregivers of School-Age Children:
LOCAL HEALTH SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS (selected)
Twitter: WC Public Health: http://twitter.com/wcpublichealth
Twitter: Washtenaw County: http://twitter.com/WashtenawCounty
Twitter: U-M Health System: http://twitter.com/umhealthsystem
Facebook: Washtenaw Country Public Health Department: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ypsilanti-MI/Washtenaw-County-Public-Health-Dept/306407418528
Facebook: Michigan Disease Surveillance System: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michigan-Disease-Surveillance-System/498881265477
Facebook: University of Michigan Health System: http://www.facebook.com/UniversityofMichiganHealthSystem?v=info
Facebook: Packard Health: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Packard-Health/191643863989
Facebook: Village Pharmacy II: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Village-Pharmacy-II/155288804501668