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Officials urge for vaccinations as whooping cough spreads through NC

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (FOX Carolina) – Buncombe County Health and Human Services (BCHHS) said they have confirmed five cases of pertussis (whooping cough) in Buncombe County since April 2024. So far, all infected individuals have been children.

“While no direct connection to any of the outbreaks occurring elsewhere in Western North Carolina is known at this time, it is likely that these cases are related to community spread occurring in the region,” BCHHS wrote. “When a case of pertussis is identified, BCHHS Public Health staff work to identify and notify those who may have been exposed to pertussis. Parents, guardians, and close contacts of the individuals are notified by letter and/or phone call.”

The Public Health staff of BCHHS urged residents and medical providers to take whooping cough seriously since it can spread quickly. BCHHS said whooping cough commonly spreads in schools, workplaces, and healthcare settings.

“With the community spread of whooping cough in the region and multiple confirmed cases now in Buncombe County, we urge individuals and families to protect themselves and others,” Buncombe County Public Health Director Dr. Ellis Matheson said. “Vaccination remains the best defense and can also reduce the severity of the illness.”

In their press release, BCHHS outlined the following information regarding whooping cough:

What is Pertussis?

Pertussis is an infection that affects the upper airways and spreads easily through coughing or sneezing. It can affect anyone but is especially dangerous for babies. Nearly half of infants under one year old who get pertussis end up in the hospital. Most deaths from whooping cough are among infants too young to be fully vaccinated.

Symptoms of Pertussis

Initially, symptoms resemble those of a common cold:

· Runny nose

· Low-grade fever

· Occasional mild cough

Infants may also experience brief pauses in breathing (apnea).

After one to two weeks, symptoms can worsen:

· Severe coughing fits, often with a “whooping” sound on breathing in

· Vomiting after coughing fits, especially in young children

· Exhaustion after coughing fits

In teens and adults, symptoms can be milder, and the “whoop” sound may be absent, especially if they’ve been vaccinated. Contact your healthcare provider if symptoms develop.

Protective Measures Against Pertussis

Step 1: Get Immunized. The best defense against pertussis is vaccination.

Infants and children should receive the DTaP vaccine starting at two months old. Since young children need at least three doses for full protection, it’s crucial for family members, caregivers, and the community to get vaccinated too.

Preteens, teens, and adults should receive a Tdap booster shot, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnant people should get a Tdap booster during their third trimester of each pregnancy, even if they’ve been vaccinated before.

Staying updated on vaccinations not only protects individuals and their families but also safeguards vulnerable populations like infants, those with health conditions, and the elderly from preventable diseases like pertussis.

Contact your healthcare provider to schedule an appointment for immunizations. You can also visit the Buncombe County Immunization Clinic at 40 Coxe Ave., Asheville, NC 28801 or give the clinic a call at (828) 250-5096. Visit www.buncombecounty.org/immunize for more information.

Step 2: Practice Good Health Habits

Staying home when sick, frequent handwashing, using hand sanitizers, and covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing can help prevent the spread of pertussis and other illnesses.

Step 3: Seek Medical Attention for Pertussis Symptoms

Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to prevent pertussis from spreading. Anyone with symptoms should stay home from school, work, or group activities, and consult a healthcare provider. Even if you or your child haven’t shown symptoms but have been exposed to pertussis, contact your healthcare provider. Sometimes antibiotics are prescribed to prevent the illness from spreading, especially to vulnerable groups like babies.

Health officials urge the community to call the Buncombe County Immunization Clinic at (828) 250-5096 with questions about which pertussis vaccination is right for you. Visit www.buncombecounty.org/immunize for more information.

Anna Harden

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