Whooping cough cases continue to rise across Kentucky; ten cases now confirmed in NKY

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Fayette County continues to experience a whooping cough outbreak, part of a statewide year-to-year increase in cases of the disease that is most serious in infants, young children and those with chronic diseases.

“Lexington has more pertussis, or whooping cough, cases in the last six weeks than the previous five years combined,” Kevin Hall, communications officer for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, said in an email. “Fayette County is now up to 27 confirmed cases reported since April 26 . . . compared to 16 total the previous five years.”

2024 pertussis cases by county (Data provided by the Kentucky Department for Public Health)

Statewide, 25 of the 120 counties have reported cases, and the total number of cases (76) has almost reached last year’s total (84) with more than half of the year remaining. Boone County has reported 7 cases, Kenton County 2, and Campbell County 1.

Whooping cough, known medically as pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing. Infected people can spread the disease from the start of symptoms and at least two weeks after coughing begins.

Early symptoms of whooping cough look like a common cold, including runny nose, sneezing, mild cough and low-grade fever. After one to two weeks, long coughing spells develop, which often occur in explosive bursts, sometimes ending with a high-pitched whoop and vomiting. This can go on for up to 10 weeks or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The best way to prevent whooping cough is through vaccination. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP. Infants should receive a series of DTaP immunizations at 2, 4, and 6 months, with boosters at 15-18 months and 4-6 years. Children should then get a single dose of the booster, called Tdap, at 11 or 12. Boosters are required every 10 years to maintain efficacy.

“Anyone with cold-like symptoms lasting a week or two should ask their provider to be tested for pertussis,” said Hall. “A cough isn’t always present, and the violent cough takes a few weeks before it appears, if it happens at all.”

So far in 2024, 76 confirmed cases of pertussis have been reported in Kentucky. That’s up from 46 confirmed cases that were reported by the state to Kentucky Health News in mid-May. The state had 35 cases in 2022 and 84 in 2023.

Last May, State Epidemiologist Kathleen Winter said at an immunization summit that the United States has a spike in pertussis about every five years. She added that there was a “major epidemic” in 2012 and said, “We are well positioned to have another one.”

Asked about this, Brice Mitchell, a spokesman for the state Department for Public Health, said in an email dated May 24 that while cases of pertussis tend to peak every three to five years, this pattern was disrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In recent years, pertussis incidence has remained low in Kentucky. (35 cases in 2022 and 84 cases in 2023) The last major peak occurred in 2016-2017 when 463 and 449 cases were reported, respectively,” he said. “There is no clear indication that Kentucky is currently headed into an elevated incidence year for pertussis, however the Kentucky Department for Public Health continues to work with local health departments to identify cases and closely monitor trends.”

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