Whooping Cough on the rise in the Wiregrass

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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) Pertussis, also known as Whooping Cough, is on the rise in the Wiregrass.

We first learned about an outbreak after several cases of the virus showed up at Extendicare Health and Rehabilitation Center in Dothan.

There were actually six cases of Whooping Cough diagnosed at Extendicare: three residents and three employees.

They have all since been treated, and have fully recovered.

However, the Houston County Health Department said the rehabilitation center is not the only place where Whooping Cough has popped up.

It has been about two weeks since the first case of Whooping Cough showed up at Extendicare.

"We were notified that we had someone who had visited the building that had tested positive,” said Chief Nursing Officer for Extendicare, Nathan Chase.

"We did do an initial survey throughout the building, and that initial survey did turn up a few cases of Whooping Cough," Chase said.

Administrators and staff worked swiftly to contain the virus, treating all six patients with antibiotics.

"We have two infection control nurses who work here and they immediately called the health department and initiated the protocol,” said Extendicare Administrator, Shenika Ford.

“We did our screening and monitoring at that time," Ford said.

Extendicare said there are no active cases of Pertussis in their building, at this time.

However, it is important to note that Pertussis is highly contagious, and spreads easily from person to person.

"In our Wiregrass area, we have 11 confirmed cases,” said State Health Department Southeastern District Director of Nursing, Johna Cotton.

“We have the six cases at Extendicare. and we have 5 confirmed cases that are out in the community in Henry and Houston counties," Cotton said.

And while this number is concerning, Cotton said there is no cause for alarm.

"It's common for Pertussis to occur anywhere,” said Cotton.

“It can occur in schools, nursing homes, hospitals, anywhere. If one person has Pertussis, they can spread it though their cough and sneeze," Cotton said.

So how do you prevent becoming another statistic?

Healthcare professionals recommend washing your hands frequently to prevent the spread of all germs and viruses, including Pertussis.

If you are feeling under the weather, and you know you are going to be visiting a nursing home, or will be around small children, you may want to stay at home.

But if you are regularly around these populations, there is one other option you may want to consider.

"The best way to prevent it is vaccination," said Dothan Pediatrics’, Dr. Michael Ramsey.

He said Pertussis is rarely deadly, but can cause other serious problems in infants and the elderly.

"They can have respiratory distress from it, and there are cases of elderly people breaking ribs from the cough. So, it's something that can be a significant illness," Ramsey said.

Dr. Ramsey added Whooping Cough can even induce seizures in young children, in severe cases.

As for Extendicare, everyone is relieved the outbreak was not too serious, and that they can get back to normal operations.

“It’s in the community and of course because we are a public facility, and we do have people coming in and out of the community, we are at risk for getting some of these diseases, but our first priority is taking care and safeguarding our residents,” said Ford.

There are 2 vaccines which protect against Pertussis: DTAP for children up to 6 years of age, and TDAP for people 7 years of age and older.

Dr. Ramsey said most children get the TDAP vaccine around age 11, just before they enter sixth grade.

The Alabama Department of Health recommends that pregnant women receive the a TDAP for each pregnancy, so the unborn children can build up immunity against Pertussis.

The agency recommends all adults get one dose of TDAP as soon as possible, especially if they plan to be around pregnant women, or if they will be in close contact with infants.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, 206 cases of Pertussis were reported in the state, last year.