County health officials are investigating an uncommon jump in the number of cases of a potentially deadly respiratory infection in the community. According to the San Luis Obispo County Health Department, they are investigating several confirmed cases of pertussis—commonly known as “whooping cough,” named for the high-pitched noise sufferers make during coughing fits.
Symptoms include a deep cough lasting longer than two weeks, which steadily increases in severity; episodes of sudden, uncontrolled coughing; and vomiting.
The disease is extremely dangerous to infants, who may become pale or “dusky blue” after a coughing fit, and may even stop breathing for a short period of time, according to a press release. Risks for adolescents and adults are significantly lower, but symptoms can still range from mild to severe. Untreated in adults, symptoms can last up to three months and result in temporary loss of voice.
County Public Health Officer Penny Bornstein told New Times the entire state is experiencing a spike in cases this year. The department has so far confirmed two cases in the county, besides six probable cases. The county had only two confirmed cases in all of 2009.
Childhood vaccination for pertussis is common throughout the U.S. However, this vaccination has been known to wear off after a period of six to 12 years, leaving adolescents and adults susceptible.
The disease is highly contagious through face-to-face contact, contact with respiratory, oral or nasal secretions, or being in the presence of a pertussis patient for more than an hour.
Vaccines are available from the Public Health Department for $25.