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Sun., Oct. 4
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Whooping cough makes county-wide comeback thanks to people not being vaccinated


OGDENSBURG — Whooping cough is making an uninvited comeback in St. Lawrence County this year.

Eleven cases have been reported so far across the county, according to the county Public Health Department.

The illness, known as pertussis, is a bacterial infection of the respiratory system spread easily by contact with the residue of an infected person’s cough or sneeze. It can last for 10 weeks in some cases.

“It’s droplet-borne,” said Nancy A. Wood, infection-prevention specialist at Canton-Potsdam Hospital.

“There are large drops that go out about three to six feet after a person sneezes,” she said. Those droplets spread the illness either by landing directly on someone or on a surface that another person touches.

Whooping cough is relatively easy to detect because of the long-lasting coughing fits it induces.

“The child coughs and coughs and coughs until they vomit, and then they go through this process all over again,” said Lorraine B. Kourofsky, interim director of the Public Health Department.

The coughing fits often lead to breathing difficulty and a “whooping” sound as people try to catch their breath — hence the name of the illness, Mrs. Wood said.

This year’s county-wide outbreak is the worst in recent memory.

Mrs. Wood said it’s rare for her staff to see any cases of whooping cough, and Mrs. Kourofsky said it’s uncommon for there to be more than two or three cases in the entire county.

So, what’s causing the outbreak?

While it’s not easy to identify exactly where the outbreak originated, Mrs. Wood said, people who have not been vaccinated are picking up the illness and spreading it to vulnerable populations.

“The biggest reason for the spread is that older people who haven’t gotten whooping cough vaccination are getting whooping cough and then giving it to the children,” Mrs. Wood said.

Mrs. Wood added there are also some people who simply have chosen not to vaccinate their children, leaving them vulnerable.

Children are the most at-risk for this illness because they don’t have any built-in immunity, and more serious complications can arise.

Mrs. Kourofsky said most children begin a series of vaccinations when they are 2 months old, but before that, they are especially vulnerable.

For that reason, Mrs. Wood said, “we started doing what they call cocooning. When a woman comes in and delivers her baby, we offer to vaccinate anybody who is going to be a caregiver of the infant.”

Parents, grandparents and extended family members all are potential carriers.

Mrs. Wood also recommends women get vaccinated with each pregnancy to avoid passing the illness on to their children. This practice could carry some of the vaccination over to the baby, she said.

But anyone at any age can get the illness and should get vaccinated, Mrs. Wood said.

To learn more about whooping cough or about getting vaccinated, call the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department at 386-2325, or contact your primary care provider.

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