A Call for Timely Diagnosis of Pertussis

Image via Flickr user Pink Sherbet by Creative Commons License.

The pertussis outbreak in California shows no signs of slowing.

According to the California Department of Public Health, as of Sept. 7, 2010, there have been 3,834 confirmed, probable, and suspect cases of the illness reported in 2010, for a state rate of 9.8 cases per 100,000. That translates into a sevenfold increase in the number of reported cases during the same time period in 2009.

This marks the most cases reported since 1958, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. 

The situation is so shaky that, on Aug. 19, the state’s immunization branch chief, Dr. John Talarico, sent a letter to physicians and hospitals statewide, urging them to treat anyone under the age of 6 years who presents with trouble breathing as whooping cough until proven otherwise. To date, 8 infants have died from the disease. 

“A common theme among the infant deaths is that pertussis was not typically diagnosed until after multiple visits to outpatient clinics, emergency departments, or other health care facilities,” Dr. Talarico wrote. “In several cases, the infant’s symptoms at the time of examination were not highly suggestive of pertussis and the infants were treated only for nasal congestion or mild upper respiratory infection. By the time these infants developed severe respiratory distress, it was usually too late for any intervention to prevent their tragic deaths.” 

For a reminder of what whooping cough sounds like, give this file a listen.

— Doug Brunk (on Twitter@dougbrunk)

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Filed under Allergy and Immunology, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, IMNG, Pediatrics, Uncategorized

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