Whooping cough takes toll in New Mexico

Posted at: 11/21/2012 5:50 PM
Updated at: 11/22/2012 8:30 AM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The worst outbreak of whooping cough in a half-century shows no signs of slowing down for the holidays.

Two small children have died from the disease in New Mexico, where the state Health Department has reported 677 cases. The dead are a two-month-old girl in San Miguel County and a four-month-old boy in Bernalillo County. The Centers for Disease Control reports about 36,000 cases across the country.

This is a very serious disease for little kids. For teenagers and grownups it's a nasty cough that lasts for weeks, but for the little guys it can be deadly. Doctors say the answer is immunization, and that goes for those of us who had our whooping cough shots many years ago.

"Now they're recommending that adults get boosters because adults could be carriers," said Dr. John Iacuone of Lovelace Health Plan. "We used to think that if you got vaccinated as a child it lasted a lifetime, but we found out that it doesn't."

Vaccination won't help the kid who's already got whooping cough, so when the first whooping, hacking coughing fits start, it's time to take him to the doctor.

"There is an antibiotic that you can get that mitigates the course," said Dr. Iacuone. " It doesn't magically make it go away, but it certainly reduces the length of time and the severity of whooping cough."

Doctors say the worst mistake a parent can make is to ignore it and hope it goes away. Sometimes it does, but all too often, it doesn't.

New Mexico ranks tenth in the nation in the rate of whooping cough cases. The CDC said there are about 27 cases for every 100,000 people here. That's well above the national average of about nine cases per 100,000 people.