Washtenaw County reports spike in whooping cough cases this year

Posted at 9:36 AM, Jun 13, 2024

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — The Washtenaw County Health Department is alerting the public to a spike in cases of pertussis, better known as whooping cough, this year.

According to the health department, there have been 21 cases of whooping cough this year, a sharp increase compared to the previous three years.

Last week, the FDA said it was concerned about a spike in whooping cough cases that were nearly three times higher this year than in 2023.

Watch our report from Dr. Partha Nandi about the FDA's concern over a rise in whooping cough cases

FDA concerned as whooping cough cases soar over 2023 levels

According to the health department, those diagnosed with whooping cough should stay away from others until they have completed a five-day antibiotic treatment.

Current cases in the county have been among teens and young adults, and no hospitalizations have been reported.

Most have been vaccinated against pertussis, however, the protection from the vaccination decreases after two years.

“Pertussis, unfortunately, seems to be returning,” says Laura Bauman, MPH, epidemiology program manager with Washtenaw County Health Department. “It’s important for us to identify and treat cases as soon as possible because illness from pertussis can be serious, especially for infants.”

In the 10 years before the COVID-19 pandemic, the health department said 50-100 cases were typically reported each year.

Pertussis is spread through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. The greatest risk of spread is during the early stage when the symptoms resemble a cold.

  • Early symptoms include low fever, runny nose, sneezing, and occasional cough
  • In 1-2 weeks, cough becomes more severe
  • During bouts of coughing, lips and nails may turn blue from lack of air. Vomiting may occur with severe coughing bouts.
  • In between coughing episodes, people may feel or appear fairly healthy
  • Coughing may last for a month or longer

Complications in teens and adults include difficulty sleeping, pneumonia, and rib fractures. For infants, complications include pneumonia, convulsions, and, in rare cases, brain damage. Most deaths from pertussis occur in infants younger than three months.
“My kids are vaccinated and relatively healthy but I do think about, I have a friend with a newborn baby... so I think about that in our public spaces," said Jill Kinsey of Ann Arbor.

Kinsey is a mom of two and she said her son went to the doctor recently for a bad cough.

Fortunately, her son did not have whooping cough.

“I was really relieved because I don’t actually know how long it takes to recover from that," said Kinsey. “I was also glad because he’s been around the community so if he did that could’ve affected a lot of people.”