The Waco-McLennan County Public Health District is investigating three related cases of whooping cough, while encouraging people to make sure they are fully vaccinated against the infection.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by a type of bacteria that attach to the tiny, hair-like extensions that line part of the upper respiratory system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bacteria release toxins that damage the extensions and cause the airways to swell.

Health district spokeswoman Kelly Craine said the three cases are associated or involve people known to each other. The health district investigated two cases of whooping cough last year that were not associated.

“What is significant about this is that we had three cases that had an association with each other,” she said. “That means it has the potential to spread more.”

Craine said the health district starts investigating cases of whooping cough by contacting every person the infected individual has been around in the past two weeks, from coworkers to family members to fellow churchgoers. The idea is to figure out if anyone else is sick.

Infected individuals are most contagious up to two weeks after the cough starts, although antibiotics can shorten that time frame, according to the CDC.

Pertussis usually spreads from person to person by coughing or sneezing, or when people spend a lot of time near each other, sharing the same breathing space, according to the CDC. Many infants who get pertussis are infected by older siblings, parents or caregivers who may not know they have the disease.

The disease affects everyone, from infants to adults. Symptoms typically develop within five to 10 days after exposure, according to the CDC.

Symptoms include a runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough. After one to two weeks, the disease progresses and further symptoms develop, including coughing fits followed by a high-pitched “whoop” sound, vomiting during or after fits, and exhaustion after coughing fits.

Treatment for pertussis generally includes antibiotics. The best form of prevention is vaccines, according to the CDC, but vaccine protection erodes over time. The CDC recommends pertussis vaccines for people of all ages.

Infants and children should get five doses of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis immunization for maximum protection, according to the CDC. Babies receive the vaccine at 2, 4 and 6 months of age and again at 15 to 18 months. Children also receive the vaccine from age 4 to 6, and a booster should be given to preteens at 11 or 12 years old.

Pregnant women should get the booster vaccine during the third trimester of each pregnancy, according to the CDC. Family members often around a newborn baby should be vaccinated, as well, to develop “herd immunity” around the infant until it can be immunized.

Craine said the health district encourages anyone who suspects they may have whooping cough to see a doctor right away.

Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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