Influenza and Whooping Cough
to the Journal By Douglas MacQueen, MD
season there are two infections in the headlines that are important to discuss:
influenza and pertussis. Both are preventable with vaccination and both have
been prevalent this year.
year between 10,000 and 40,000 people die from the flu in the United States.
Influenza season started early this year and has been particularly aggressive,
resulting in many hospitalizations and a number of deaths, among them five
pediatric deaths in New York State. While flu season is starting to wane, the
potential for more cases still exists.
does influenza come from?
flu originates in Southeast Asia and different strains of the virus are present
each year. Some strains are better at spreading from person to person, some
cause more severe infections. Formulation of the annual flu vaccine is based on
the particular strains that have been prevalent in other parts of the world.
can I avoid getting the flu?
virus is spread by droplets in the air when infected people cough, sneeze, and
speak, or when the droplets land on something that you have touched before
touching your own nose, eyes, or mouth. Infected people often pass along the
flu before they have symptoms, which is why your best protection is annual
vaccination and frequent hand washing (don’t forget your thumbs).
are the symptoms of flu and what should I do if I have them?
symptoms include fever and chills, headache, muscle ache, and severe fatigue. Your
doctor can diagnose flu with a nose swab. Your doctor can also prescribe an
antiviral medication for the flu. It is prescribed for pregnant women, the
elderly and the very young, diabetics, people with lung or heart disease, and
those with weakened immune systems due to HIV, chemotherapy, or medications
that suppress the immune system. Flu antiviral medication is most effective
within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
is pertussis, or whooping cough, in the news?
the last 50 years, 2012 was the worst for whooping cough. This illness is
potentially fatal, especially for babies and young children. Whooping cough is
caused by a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. It can be treated
with an antibiotic.
is it called whooping cough?
cough starts out like a common cold, followed by bouts of a severe cough. The
cough comes in waves, during which the patient gasps for breath. The gasping
sounds like a whoop. It can sometimes be so severe that it causes vomiting. Children
may not make the whooping sound when they have pertussis.
should be vaccinated for whooping cough?
Pregnant women should be vaccinated during each pregnancy so they can pass
protective antibodies to their newborns. Anyone expecting to be around an
infant should be vaccinated because babies under two months of age cannot
receive the vaccine. If you choose not to vaccinate your children, you put them
at risk for pertussis and you also put other people’s babies at risk for what
could be a fatal illness.
I have immunity from the pertussis vaccines I had as a child?
immunity from the vaccine diminishes over time, so children need vaccination
boosters. Adults should also receive the booster, which protects against
tetanus and diphtheria, as well as pertussis.
can spread both the flu and whooping cough to others before you have symptoms,
which is why vaccination is so important. It is also important to stay home and
to avoid contact with infants if you are sick. We’ve had the luxury of living
at a time when vaccines have made potentially fatal infections rare. With more
parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, that’s no longer the case.
MacQueen is an infectious disease specialist who is board certified in internal
medicine and infectious diseases. He is on the medical staff of Cayuga Medical
Center and can be reached at the Cayuga Center for Infectious Diseases at (607)