by Josh Carpenter

A statewide rise in the number of whooping cough cases has counties around Lake Norman stressing the importance of the vaccine for infants and adults.

According to North Carolina Health and Human Services Department officials, the number of cases in the state this year is about twice what it was a year ago.

On Aug. 20, the state reported the first infant death as a result of the disease, formally known as pertussis.

The child, only two months old, was from Forsyth County.

“It’s roughly twice what we had last year, but let’s remember that this isn’t just in North Carolina, it’s nationwide,” said Chrissy Pearson, a spokesperson with the department of health and human services.

As of Aug. 17, 354 cases of whooping cough had been diagnosed in the state.

Pearson recommends the DTaP vaccination series for young children starting at 2 months of age, and continuing at 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months and 4-6 years of age.

Adults that come into contact with infants are also encouraged to get the vaccination, said Andy Fair, public information officer with the Mecklenburg County Health Department.

“Sometimes these parents aren’t vaccinated and the children who are too young to receive the vaccination are passing it along,” he said. “We’ve seen more of that this year.”

Mecklenburg’s number of cases has nearly quadrupled from 2011, Fair said.

From Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 last year, Mecklenburg reported five cases of whooping cough.

During that same period this year, 19 cases have been detected.

“There’s a variety of factors,” Fair said. “Sometimes we just see cycles like this where we’ll have a higher number every seven to 10 years. There isn’t one answer why we’re seeing more of it.”

Whooping cough is a contagious illness that spreads from person to person, usually by coughing or sneezing, according to a state press release. It can be detrimental to one’s health at any age, but can be life-threatening to infants too young to receive the vaccination.

Rising sixth-graders, Fair said, are required to receive the Tdap vaccination. Teenagers and adults can also get the Tdap if they haven’t gotten it previously.

The Tdap booster shot is recommended for any child ages 7 to 10 who didn’t complete the childhood vaccination series.

Lena Allen, community health manager with Lincoln County, said symptoms include coughing until turning blue or vomiting. Generally, there isn’t a fever involved, and the cough is worse at night, she said.

“I think you just see it in these infants because they don’t have the immunity that a normal, healthy adult has,” Allen said.

Lincoln County has had cases in the past, Allen said, but doesn’t have any current reported cases. To make sure the public is aware of the disease, the county is holding a pertussis clinic Sept. 29 at the Denver Days festival.

And with the start of school, the state is pushing students to get the vaccine.

“Back to school time is a good opportunity to see that everyone in your household is up to date on required vaccinations,” said Al Delia, secretary of the state department of health and human services. “We have seen a dramatic increase in pertussis cases in North Carolina and across the country this year, so we need a community-wide effort to prevent further spread of the disease.”

Like Lincoln County, no cases of whooping cough have been reported in Iredell.

But health department officials aren’t taking any chances.

“We have been very active with educating people and bringing nurses into the community to administer the supply of state vaccine that has been disseminated to local health departments,” said Liz Crawford, public health education specialist with the Iredell County Health Department.

For more information on whooping cough, go to www.ncdhhs.gov.

By the numbers:

• As of Aug. 17, 354 cases had been reported in the state.

• From Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 19 cases had been reported in Mecklenburg County, compared to just five cases during that period last year.

• No cases of whooping cough have been reported in Iredell or Lincoln counties.

• One fatality – a 2-month-old in Forsyth County – has been reported in 2012.