Is Whooping Cough on the Rise in Hawaii?

November 5, 2010, 9:00 AM HST · Updated November 5, 9:00 AM
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A recent spike in whooping cough cases throughout the islands of Hawaii have some health experts taking notice. Throughout the current year, Hawaii has seen a total of 52 cases of whooping cough, also known as pertussis, with 21 on Maui alone. The rise appears to be linked to the epidemic that has hit California this year, where more than 4,000 patients have been diagnosed with the disease so far this year. However, some doctors believe that an increase in testing for the disease may also be attributing to the larger number of confirmed cases this year.

What is Whooping Cough?

Whooping cough usually begins with common cold symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat and low-grade fever. The illness progresses from a dry cough in the beginning to a more severe, persistent cough that produces a thick mucous. This phase typically occurs within one or two weeks after the initial onset of symptoms, and is characterized by longer coughing fits that may be interrupted by a “whooping” sound when inhaling.

Children are the most susceptible to severe cases of whooping cough, with some cases resulting in hospitalization or even death. This illness should be treated by a doctor, and parents are instructed to phone their physician if their children in the following situations:

  • The child is exhibiting mild cold symptoms or a dry cough that will not go away on their own
  • The child has been exposed to someone who is exhibiting the symptoms of whooping cough or has been diagnosed with the illness
  • The school has notified you that an outbreak of whooping cough has been seen at the school
  • The child is having frequent coughing fits that are characterized by vomiting or a “whooping” sound
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If a child appears to be having trouble breathing or is turning red or blue in the face, emergency service should be sought right away. Whooping cough is a serious illness that requires immediate treatment in its most severe form.

Stopping Whooping Cough

To help reduce the incidence of whooping cough on Maui, medical professionals are advising adults and children alike to receive booster shots of the pertussis vaccine. Adults who had the vaccine as children may require a booster to ensure they are still protected from the illness. Children who are still in the process of receiving the full immunization protocol may also be more susceptible to the illness and should be treated pro-actively when necessary. In some cases, doctors are prescribing antibiotics to an entire family, if just one member is diagnosed with whooping cough.

Whooping cough was once a much bigger problem than it is today, thanks to effective vaccines that have protected many from contracting the illness. However, individuals who have never had the vaccine or received the immunization many years ago may be at increased risk of contracting whooping cough on the islands this year.

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