Health News

Whooping cough and adults

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

When you think of whooping cough, you might picture a child with what looks like a bad cold. But adults are getting this illness more and more. That old vaccine shot you got as a kid has probably worn off.

Whooping cough numbers in adults have gone through the roof this year, with an epidemic being reported in Washington State in April. The Centers for Disease Control says the issue is a concern for adults, and says that cases are often misdiagnosed and not reported to them enough. It's not a dangerous illness for adults, just a miserable one.

Elizabeth Marner-Brooks went to the doctor's office for a nagging cough.

"Coughing. It was super bad at night. It was so scary I thought, 'I can't breathe. I can't breathe,'" she explained.

Elizabeth has whooping cough as do an increasing number of adults, and has been coughing like this for over two months.

"It kind of looks like cough, cough, cough, cough then unnghhhhhh - a gasping breath which has that typical whoop to it," Marc Spero, internist and pulmonologist, said.

For Elizabeth, it started like a cold and progressed. Antibiotics will stop contagion, but the cough symptoms go on and on.

"Most people shake it after a few weeks, but it can go on for months and the Chinese refer to it as the 100 day cough," Spero said.

There's no good test for it, which is probably why it's misdiagnosed and underreported.

This is the beginning of the common cold season, and even though whoop cough starts out like a cold, it can happen at any time during the year.

The best protection is the tdap vaccine, which contains whooping cough, diphtheria and tetanus. If you haven't had a booster since childhood, now is the time to get it. Pregnant women should get it in the second or third trimester.

"The usual narcotic cough suppressants don't work. Nothing works and it is quite miserable," Spero said.

Elizabeth knows the misery and has spread to work to get a booster shot.

"I told all my friends and family and they said, 'yeah, I had one as a kid,' and I said no, no. You have to get one now," she said.

The Centers for Disease Control is in the process of evaluating the outbreaks of adult whooping cough in the northwest, in order to advise the public about booster shots of the vaccine. The elderly especially should get the booster, as whooping cough is more serious in older age groups.

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