Parents should be careful to not expose their infants to people with cough illnesses, says the CDC.
A series of whooping cough (search) outbreaks among health care workers has prompted the CDC to issue a new warning about protecting infants from the potentially deadly illness.
Officials say special care should be taken to avoid exposing infants to anyone with a cough illness. Health care workers should be vigilant in observing precautions to avoid spreading the illness when caring for infected individuals.
The warning comes after an infant in West Virginia died in December after exposure to adult family members with undiagnosed whooping cough.
Whooping cough, known in medical terms as pertussis, is a prolonged respiratory illness that’s caused by exposure to Bordetella pertussis bacteria (search). The illness causes violent coughing, often followed by a “whoop” sound upon inhalation.
A vaccine is available to protect against whooping cough. But young infants are still susceptible to infection until they get the third dose of the vaccine at 6 months of age.
Older children and adults are also at risk for infection if they were not fully vaccinated or have waning immunity. No whooping cough vaccine has been approved for use in adults, but two pharmaceutical companies applied for approval with the FDA in 2004.
Whooping Cough Still a Threat
In their report, published in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC officials also describe three whooping cough outbreaks that occurred in hospitals in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Oregon in 2003.
They say the outbreaks illustrate the importance of complying with measures to reduce the risk of infection when evaluating and caring for patients with cough-related illnesses.
For example, in the Kentucky case, a pregnant doctor evaluated an infant with suspected whooping cough daily for five days and did not wear a mask. Thirteen days later, the doctor developed a cough and declined recommended antibiotic treatment as a preventative measure. She was later diagnosed with whooping cough.
Investigators also suspect that the source of whooping cough infection in the infant may have been one of four nurses who had a whooping cough-like illness before caring for the infant.
Researchers say despite high vaccination rates among children, whooping cough has increased from a low of 1,248 cases in 1981 to an annual average of nearly 10,000 cases per year from 1996 to 2001.
During 1996-2004, the majority of whooping cough patients were either children less than 6 months old or over age 7, which is too old to receive a whooping cough vaccine (search).
SOURCES: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Jan. 28, 2005; vol 53: pp 67-72. News release, CDC.