(Indianapolis, Ind.) - Pertussis, or whooping cough, cases are at the highest level in 45 years in Indiana.
The Indiana State Department of Health reports 533 cases of pertussis have been found this year with two of the cases resulting in the deaths of infants.
Whooping cough is a contagious illness caused by bacteria. It may cause severe coughing fits that can interfere with breathing.
The illness – which has early symptoms similar to a cold then develops into coughing fits which can include vomiting or bleeding - tends to be milder in older children, but has a higher chance of becoming fatal in young children and infants by leading to pneumonia or seizures.
"I find this outbreak particularly concerning because pertussis can be prevented with a vaccine," said State Health Commissioner Gregory Larkin, M.D. "Children and adults, alike, are at risk for life-threatening infections from pertussis, but there is a safe and effective vaccine."
Vaccinations have proven the best way to combat whooping cough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the Tdap vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) for everyone over seven years of age. Younger children should get the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTaP) series.
"The key to the success of the pertussis vaccine is for everyone to be vaccinated," said Dr. Larkin. "When an infant is hospitalized or dies from pertussis, it is because someone in the child's environment of family, friends, community members, and health care providers were themselves not vaccinated and therefore exposed a susceptible child to infection.
"Only when families, communities, and health care providers are fully vaccinated will we have a 'cocoon of safety' around those most vulnerable for severe illness, particularly those too young or too ill to get vaccinated," said Dr. Larkin.
Read more information from the Indiana State Department of Health on preventing the whooping cough by going to www.in.gov/isdh/17094.htm.