Health Watch -- Whooping Cough Makes a Comeback

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A persistent cough could be a warning sign.

Cities across the nation have been reporting outbreaks of whooping cough in children, teens and adults - and there may be many more cases than health officials realize. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, can be recognized by the distinctive "whoop" sound patients make when they cough. Vaccination against whooping cough is part of the standard series of immunizations infants receive. The problem is that the immunity doesn't last a lifetime.

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say the vaccine isn't available for anyone over age 7. Teens and adults who were vaccinated against whooping cough as small children may no longer have immunity against the disease. Whooping cough is more serious for infants and small children, so that's when immunization is most important. Adults with whooping cough may not even know they have the disease. They may just have a nagging, persistent cough without the familiar whooping sound. While the disease isn't usually life-threatening for adults, they could possibly spread the illness to children, who are more at risk.

Dr. Jane Siegel, a UT Southwestern pediatrician, says it's essential that children under 7 be up to date on their immunizations, including the vaccine for pertussis. Teens and adults with a cough that lasts more than two weeks should be tested for pertussis and treated with antibiotics if they have the disease. People they've been in contact with also may need antibiotics.

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Sept. 2004

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