Whooping cough on increase in Florida and Lee County, health officials say

Whooping cough is a contagious bacterial illness that causes uncontrollable coughing that can make it difficult to breathe. The infection will last about six weeks and can be treated with antibiotics. Infants are at risk of death.

— Florida is experiencing an upswing in whooping cough with more than double the number of cases of a year ago, state officials said Friday.

There are 120 confirmed and reported cases so far this year, compared to 57 cases by this time a year ago, according to data from the Florida Department of Health.

Whooping cough is a contagious bacterial illness that causes uncontrollable coughing that can make it difficult to breathe. The infection will last about six weeks and can be treated with antibiotics. Infants are at risk of death.

Lee County has seen more whooping cough than Collier, but public health officials in Naples still advise residents to get vaccinated based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

"We continue to encourage caregivers of infants under six months of age to get a booster vaccine to protect the infants they care for from acquiring whooping cough," said Deb Millsap, spokeswoman for the Collier County Health Department.

Collier has had six cases of whooping cough so far this year, compared with 19 cases for all of last year.

Lee County has 15 cases so far this year and is on track to exceed last year's total of 16 cases, said Diane Holm, spokeswoman for the Lee health department.

"We've had three years of double-digits. Our message is it's not customary for us to have double-digit numbers," Holm said.

Nationally, the U.S. appears headed for its worst year for whooping cough in more than five decades. Nearly 18,000 cases have been reported so far — more than twice the number seen at this point last year, the federal Centers said Thursday.

Public health officials, including those in Southwest Florida, point to a decline in children getting vaccinated.

"Some people are still believing some reports put out about 10 years ago that their child could be getting harmed by the vaccine or vaccine preservatives," Holm said.

A landmark study published in the Lancet medical journal in 1998 suggested the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine triggers autism, causing a fury among parents and causing them to forego vaccinations. Then in January 2011, the Lancet retracted the study after learning the research wasn't valid.

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta now recommends children have five doses of the whooping cough vaccine and that adults have one dose, Holm said.

Students are required to be immunized against whooping cough to attend public schools but parents may rely on a religious exemption to avoid the requirement. The form doesn't require a signature from a church official, only a parent's.

Nationally, the U.S. appears headed for its worst year for whooping cough in more than five decades. Nearly 18,000 cases have been reported so far — more than twice the number seen at this point last year, the federal Centers said Thursday.

At this pace, the number for the entire year will be the highest since 1959, when 40,000 illnesses were reported.

Nine children have died, and health officials called on adults — especially pregnant women and those who spend time around children — to get a booster shot as soon as possible.

__ The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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