The holidays are made for out-of-town guests, big hugs, and crowded shopping malls. But with end-of-the-year celebrations and New Year champagne comes the dreaded flu season and unintentionally spreading germs. It’s normal to catch a cold or two this season, but it’s best to take precautions against the spread of harsher infections.
One bug is hitting hard this season. Whooping cough cases have doubled in western North Carolina, with 51 cases confirmed as of this writing. Health officials in Henderson County have shared that the number of reported cases rapidly increased from 21 infected persons on Dec. 8 to 51 on Dec. 18. In November, a case of whooping cough was reported at Pisgah High School in Canton, NC, giving officials the first indication that the infection was in the area.
Despite its somewhat comical name, whooping cough is a serious respiratory infection. Whooping cough is also called pertussis, named after the pertussis bacteria that affect the lungs and breathing and cause the illness. It’s highly contagious and can be spread through the coughs and sneezes of someone infected.
BlueRidgeNow.com reports that about 1,000 people in schools and the community have been identified as having close contact with someone who has pertussis. Symptoms can begin up to 21 days after exposure and start much like the common cold with sneezing, runny nose and mild cough. Residents of western North Carolina should be aware of the symptoms and watchful of their health.
WRAL.com notes that people who have been vaccinated can still contract whooping cough, though the symptoms may be milder for them. The most vulnerable to the infection are newborn babies who are not old enough for vaccination, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems. BlueRidgeNow.com shares that those with the infection experience coughing fits that may cause vomiting and make it hard to breathe. This can begin one to two weeks after first symptoms and can last for months. It’s especially dangerous to infants. If you’re feeling under the weather, try to avoid holding or interacting with newborn babies until you are certain that your symptoms are not whooping cough. (Only your doctor can tell you for sure.)
Be aware of the spread of infection, and take steps to keep yourself healthy. It’s time to remember some of the ground rules set in grade school: Wash your hands, don’t share drinks, and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. While many of us were taught to cover our mouths with our hands when coughing or sneezing, kids today are taught to cough in the crook of their elbows, so as not to spread germs. Adults should adopt this trick.
Since whooping cough usually starts like a common cold, many adults may initially have it and not be aware. Those in western NC should be mindful of the symptoms and contact a doctor if they have a common cold last longer than usual. Antibiotics are available at that stage. Most adults have been vaccinated for pertussis, and teenagers can still be vaccinated.
The National Foundation of Infectious Diseases states that all adults 19 years and older need a one-time whooping cough booster vaccine. The whooping cough booster, called Tdap, is a combination vaccine with tetanus and diphtheria. (You probably had it when you were a teenager.) Once an adult gets the Tdap vaccine, they should get the Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster every 10 years from then on. Talk to your doctor if it’s been awhile since your last vaccination.
Speaking of vaccines, the NC Department of Health and Human Services says an annual flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting you and your family from many strains of the influenza virus. Local drug stores like CVS and Rite Aid offer flu shots, so you can protect yourself while shopping. While the flu is not as dangerous for healthy adults as whooping cough, it’s still no picnic. Protect yourself this season for a healthy new year.