Health officials throughout Michigan are warning adults that a cough that seems like a minor aggravation to them could prove deadly to infants and children.
Adults who work with children are being urged to get a booster vaccine for whooping cough to prevent the disease from spreading. The virus is on track to at least double the number of cases that had been seen in most recent years, the Times Herald of Port Huron reported Saturday.
The Michigan Department of Community Health says 595 cases have been reported statewide since January, and 902 cases were reported last year. That compares with about 330 cases a year on average between 2003 and 2008.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, goes largely undetected in adults because its symptoms are similar to those of the common cold. But children — especially those too young to have received a standard vaccination — are particularly vulnerable to the disease.
“You don’t think that a little germ can kill you,” said Justine Springborn, whose 3-month-old son Collin died in February. “But if you are not protected, it will.”Collin’s is the only death from the disease reported this year in Michigan.
He caught whooping cough about a week before he died, Springborn said. His cough worsened until he would turn blue and vomit, and doctors at the hospital were unable to diagnose what was wrong before he died.
Doctors and family members still weren’t sure what had killed Collin when his twin brother, Corbin, now 9 months old, developed a cough just a few days later. This time, tests showed Corbin had whooping cough. He was in and out of the hospital for four months before he recovered, Springborn said. Many nights, he slept with a special monitor to make sure he didn’t stop breathing.
“We didn’t know whether we were going to lose him, too,” Springborn said. “Being first-time parents, we were very scared.”
Whooping cough is a respiratory illness spread through sneezing and coughing. State health officials say its early symptoms mimic a common cold, but violent coughing marked by the distinctive “whooping” sound follows after one to two weeks.Infants and children are at the most risk. More than half of babies younger than 1 year old who contract the virus require hospitalization, state officials said.
Sue Amato, a spokeswoman for the St. Clair County Health Department, said the solution is for adults in regular contact with children to get a booster vaccine called Tdap. While children receive a whooping cough vaccination as part of routine immunizations, those immunizations fade over time.
Adults, she said, “can be infected and not even know it or just have a mild cough.”
Springborn has been talking to groups about the importance of vaccination.
“Getting the vaccine is much easier than getting pertussis,” she said.
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