SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

Texas pertussis levels on track to reach highest levels in 50 years

The Texas Department of State Health Services urged Texans to get vaccinated against pertussis on Tuesday after projections showed the number of cases could reach the state's highest level in more than 50 years.

The DSHS reported close to 2,000 pertussis cases this year. Projections show the annual total will likely surpass the recent high mark of 3,358 cases in 2009. Two pertussis-related deaths occurred this year in Texas in infants too young to be vaccinated.

"This is extremely concerning," Lisa Cornelius, an infectious diseases medical officer at the DSHS, said. "If cases continue to be diagnosed at the current rate, we will see the most Texas cases since the 1950s. Pertussis is highly infectious and can cause serious complications, especially in babies, so people should take it seriously."

The DSHS issued a health alert on Tuesday advising doctors on how to diagnose and treat pertussis. The department strongly urged people to ensure their children's and their own vaccinations are up to date.

The department recommends pregnant women get a dose of pertussis vaccine during each pregnancy, preferably between the 27th and 36th weeks of pregnancy. The vaccine helps protect the baby before he or she can start getting a vaccine series at two months of age. Family members and medical providers who will be around newborns should also be vaccinated.

Pertussis is a bacterial infection that typically starts with cold-like symptoms and a mild cough. After a week or two, severe coughing can start and last for several weeks. The whooping sound that follows the coughing fits gives the disease its other name, whooping cough.