Johnson County’s whooping cough outbreak looks to be weakening.
The county’s health department said Tuesday it received reports of 176 diagnosed cases since Jan. 1 compared with 11 for 2011.
Yet health officials have started to see the first signs that the illness is waning.
“There are fewer cases per day being reported,” said Barbara Mitchell, a health department spokeswoman.
The end of the school year has helped to lessen the spread, but public education has also played a role, health officials said.
That might be little comfort to those most afflicted with the illness. Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is generally characterized by a cough that persists for more than two weeks and is accompanied by gagging, vomiting and the “whooping” sound. Coughing fits can be violent leading to hospitalization, broken ribs and death.
Public health officials advise those diagnosed with the illness to stay home for five days to complete antibiotic therapy, or three weeks if they decline treatment. Those guidelines act as requirements for school children.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said Tuesday that it had investigated eight outbreaks throughout the state this year, including the on-going spread in Johnson County.
In May, the Johnson County Health Department urged residents to be mindful of the symptoms and get the pertussis vaccine or a booster. The department and the state are still working to fully investigate all 176 cases, which were reported from laboratories, doctors, schools and elsewhere. Whooping cough could be disproven in some cases.
Health officials in Kansas City said they’ve not seen extraordinary numbers this year.
The overall uptick has been troubling for Johnson County and neighboring health departments.
Cases remain low in Wyandotte County, but Chief Epidemiologist Larry Franken knows it could easily happen there too. After seeing what’s happening in Johnson County, his department began offering free shots and is trying to get the word out, especially with adults.
“They are a major carrier of it,” he said. “And a lot of them aren’t vaccinated.”
Dubbed the 100-day cough by some, the highly contagious respiratory illness is spread by coughing and sneezing. One hour of contact could be enough to spread the illness. The most vulnerable are infants, toddlers and the elderly, but it can strike all age groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Infectious disease specialists said the outbreaks are happening because more parents have become skeptical of vaccines and the vaccine’s effectiveness lessens with time.