Whooping cough circulates in South Florida

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Children and adults who haven't been vaccinated have helped fuel a growing number of whooping cough infections in South Florida and elsewhere in the state, health officials said.

Four children and an adult have come down with the contagious respiratory disease this month in Broward County , county health officials said Thursday. They are tracking how the patients became infected and whether the cases are related.

Palm Beach County officials have been watching for whooping cough since September, when the bacteria claimed the life of a 2-month-old baby who caught it from an adult with a mild illness. The baby had no immune protection and was too young to get vaccinated.

"Parents should bring their children to be vaccinated. We want adults to get the vaccine , too, especially if they are around children," said Timothy O'Connor, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County Health Department.

The disease, pertussis, spreads through droplets in sneezes and coughs from an infected person. It typically starts as a cough , runny nose and mild fever, then worsens over a week or more.

Broward has logged nine cases this year and Palm Beach County seven, making 16 total compared with 10 in the two counties through the same date last year, state figures show. There were 25 cases all of last year.

In Florida, Tampa Bay has been the biggest hot spot so far. Statewide, 120 cases have been reported this year, up from 91 in the same period last year. That's a pace just below the peak of 427 cases in 2009. Unvaccinated adults and children have helped spread the bacteria.

Cases have surged nationally, as well, up 25 percent this year to 5,828, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Wisconsin and Washington state have had the biggest outbreaks.

Babies under age 1 are 10 times more likely than average to catch whooping cough, and half must be hospitalized because they lack immunity, the CDC said.

Children get the DTaP vaccine, five shots starting at six weeks of age and ending at age 4 to 6, to protect against diphtheria , tetanus and pertussis.

Older children and adults get a booster called Tdap. Officials urge adults to get the booster every 10 years.

Families that cannot afford shots for kids can get them for free or at a discount from the state Vaccines for Children program. County health departments handle it. Information: SunSentinel.com/vaccines or 850-245-4342.

The vaccine is required for children to attend school, but about 1.5 percent of kindergartners in Broward and Palm Beach counties are excused for religious objections.


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