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MINNEAPOLIS - Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is on the rise in Minnesota. It hasn't reached the point of an official "outbreak" yet, but health providers are asking parents to take steps to immunize themselves and their children.

"I do not want to wait until the outbreak is full blown before taking action," Dr. Thomas Boyce, a Mayo Clinic specialist in pediatric infectious diseases told KARE.

In the first five months of 2012 the Minnesota Department of Health confirmed 670 cases of whooping cough, which is more than the total for all of 2011. In the Metro area the most populous county, Hennepin County, leads the way with 219 cases.

And you can go here toread county-by-county pertussis statistics collected by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The ailment is caused by pertussis bacteria that settle in the respiratory system, leading to inflammation and obstruction of air passages. Whooping cough can be confirmed with a nasal swab collected in a physician's office.

Dr. Boyce said in an average year the Mayo lab conducts 13 pertussis test per week. In the past three weeks those numbers have spiked, ranging from 41 to 63 tests in a week.
But the initial diagnosis in adults and adolescents isn't as easy as it is with toddlers, because the symptoms can be confused with other maladies.

"It's easily treated with an antibiotic if we catch it," Dr. Christina Manders, a family practice physician with Fairview Health Services in Savage, told KARE.

"The hard part is catching it, because it can look like a cold in healthy adults. People can have a nondescript cough, fevers, chills, malaise. It just looks like your regular cold."

Dr. Manders said if your cough persists for more than a week, or is violent, you should see your medical provider. Those symptoms are usually worse at night than during the day, but can happen at any time.

The ailment spreads from person to person from droplets in sneezing and coughing, most typically between people who spend a lot of time together. After the antibiotic runs its course you're no longer contagious to others, but the cough may still persist for weeks after treatment ends.

In infants, toddlers and children it's more understandable how pertussis got its nickname. There's a gasping sound that sounds like the word "whoop" followed by animated incessant coughing fits.

"You get that characteristic 'whoop' sound more often in the young children and infants, than you do in adults and adolescents."

For young infants, whooping cough is potentially fatal, because they aren't fully immunized yet.

"Infants that are under age two months are not vaccinated, so they don't have any immunity against whooping cough," Manders explained."And because of how vulnerable they are much more susceptible to succumb to secondary effects of whooping cough like pneumonia."

Immunization for adults and kids

That's why there's a national campaign by the March of Dimes and other organization urging parents and other caregivers who have close contact with babies on an ongoing basis to update their own immunization.That's done with a Tdap shot, which is a vaccine against both tetanus and pertussis.

"Anybody who hasn't had a tetanus booster in the last two years should be getting a Tdap vaccination to protect them against whooping cough and also to keep it from spreading," Manders advised.

No health authority has offered up an explanation yet for the spike in whooping cough cases, but physicians do know the D-Tap vaccine given to children wears off with time. That's immunity begins to wane as early as three years after the most recent dose.

"Their childhood vaccination is actually waning over time, so we're asking parents not wait until kids are due for their next tetanus booster," Manders said. "But bring in those kids who are 10 to 12 years of age to give them a Tdap dose."

The Hennepin County Epidemiology and Environmental Health Department reported several cases at Wayzata East Middle School, but the school's nurse Irene Morris said there was no cause for alarm.

She said the district had gone out of its way to detect new cases after the first one was documented. To read Hennepin County's pertussis advisory click on this link.

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