The Illinois Department of Public Health is warning the public of an outbreak of whooping cough in Cook County and surrounding collar counties.
As of Tuesday, 1,149 cases have been reported statewide. Of those, the majority have been in McHenry (227), Cook (275), DuPage (217) and Lake (112) counties, a release from the department said.
Although pertussis can affect any age group, infants – especially those too young to be vaccinated – are at especially high-risk. Health officials are strongly encouraging parents, family members, caregivers and all who come in contact with young infants to be vaccinated against pertussis, or whooping cough, the release said.
"In general, the majority of pertussis cases, hospitalizations, and deaths occur in infants less than two months old, who are too young to be vaccinated so the key is protecting these infants and limiting their exposure," said IDPH Acting Director Dr. Kenneth Soyemi in the release. "Pertussis vaccination for infants begins at two months, but young infants are not adequately protected until the initial series of three shots is complete at six months of age."
Pertussis is spread through direct contact with bacteria from nasal and throat discharges from coughing and sneezing. Symptoms usually occur five to 10 days after exposure, but can take as long as 21 days. The characteristic high-pitched "whoop," more common in children, comes from breathing in after a coughing episode.
If the illness is confirmed by a medical provider, officials recommend staying home from work or school during the first five days of treatment. Frequent hand-washing and good respiratory hygiene prevents further spread.
Pertussis outbreaks are "cyclical," with a dramatic spike in reported cases every four to five years. The 1,149 reported cases so far in 2011 have already surpassed the total 648 cases from 2009, the release said.