As we head into flu season, don't be fooled by another, serious disease that can masquerade itself as the flu. The CDC reports the highest number of cases of whooping cough in nearly 40 years. That's not just in babies, 40% are among teenagers, like Zach Graham, who coughed for two weeks before he was diagnosed. "My symptoms were coughing and vomiting so much and my family was very worried. Finally, the doctor diagnosed me with whooping cough," says Graham.
Although whooping cough, or pertussis, is rarely fatal in older children, it's not uncommon for it to kill an infant who has not been vaccinated, but is exposed to an older child, like Zach.
Last year in Texas, there were 670 cases of whooping cough and those are just the ones we know about. A lot of older kids and adults may think they're fighting the flu or a nasty cough for weeks unaware that they're spreading a disease that is potentially fatal among babies. The problem is most people think their kids can't catch or spread whooping cough because they were vaccinated as children,and that's not true.
"Childhood immunization against pertussis wears off five to 10 years after the last routine vaccination shot, administered between four and six years of age," says Dr. Amy Middleman.
So, an older child's nagging cough could actually be the very contagious whooping cough. Currently a Pertussis Booster for adolescents is under review by the FDA and may be available next year. But for this season, teens and adults are advised to avoid small children if they have a cough,and see a doctor if it persists for more than a week.