Doctors warn whooping cough's spreading rapidly in Treasure Valley

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - Health workers say Pertussis, or whooping cough is spreading through the Treasure Valley at an alarming rate. Ada County has seen 25 confirmed cases so far this year, which is four times the average for this time of year. And Canyon County has had 26, matching its total for all of last year.

The health department in Boise hasn't seen this many cases of whooping cough this early on in several years. That's why health workers say we all need to do our part to stop the spread of it.

As the number of confirmed cases of whooping cough, rises in the Treasure Valley, the Central District Health Department says untreated and undiagnosed cases are getting higher too.

"That really is just the tip of the iceberg," said Sarah Correll, an epidemiologist at CDHD. "There's always a lot of cases that aren't referred to us, so when we see the numbers go higher than average, we know that there's a lot more cases out there that are happening."

Doctors say some may not even be aware they have the illness. Those who aren't sure should look for the symptoms. Whooping cough usually starts out with cold-like symptoms. Then after a couple of weeks, a persistent cough begins. And sometimes, the whooping kicks in.

"Some patients or children or adults will have a characteristic whoop after a prolonged coughing phase but not everybody gets that," said Dr. Steve Smith, a pediatrician in Boise. "I think of it more as when a cough goes on for more than a month, maybe two months."

Doctors say not taking care of the illness can turn deadly if it's spread to infants. Even those that have been vaccinated are at risk, because their series of vaccinations doesn't fully build up their immunity until they're about 18 months old.

"They get a severe cough that causes apnea, they're unable to breathe because they are so tiny, and they end up being in the hospital staying on oxygen to survive," Correll said.

So far, four babies have been hospitalized in the Treasure Valley this year. Doctors recommend that pregnant mothers, along with families that have small babies, get their Tdap booster shot. And if you have symptoms of the sickness, doctors say to stay away from babies until you've been tested and treated.