Whooping cough cases on the rise in Clark County, most involve the unvaccinated


The number of whooping cough cases in Clark County in 2024 is more than four times as high as the same time last year, according to the Clark County Public Health Department. The majority of the 60 cases identified as of June 13 in 2024 are among people who have never been vaccinated against whooping cough.

Whooping cough — or pertussis — is a serious respiratory illness that spreads easily from person to person when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes, the Health Department stated in a news release. Whooping cough can be especially serious for babies younger than 1, who are at greatest risk for severe complications. About 1 in 3 babies younger than 1 years old who get whooping cough require hospital care.

“Sixty-two percent, nearly two thirds, of the pertussis cases we’ve seen have never received a pertussis-containing vaccine,” Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer and Public Health director, told the Reflector. “... Pertussis can be a deadly disease, especially in young children and infants. Children under 1 year of age, 1 in 3 of them will end up hospitalized for this. Fortunately, we haven’t had any of these yet. One in 100 babies will die from complications with whooping cough.”

Early symptoms of whooping cough are similar to those of a common cold, Melnick said. Initial symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, a mild cough and a low-grade fever. However, one to two weeks after symptoms begin, people can develop violent coughing fits that leave them gasping for air afterward. The initial symptom phase is when infected people are the most infectious, easily spreading the illness to others.

Babies with whooping cough may not cough but instead have life-threatening pauses in breathing, gagging or gasping, the Health Department stated. Melnick added that children can also develop pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death from whooping cough.

Children 4 and younger have accounted for more than half of the whooping cough cases in Clark County so far this year, the release stated. Among the youth, 78% have never received a vaccine that protects against whooping cough. Among all cases in Clark County, 62% have never received a whooping cough vaccination.

People who are vaccinated may still be able to get whooping cough, but their illnesses are usually less severe. Melnick said no vaccine is ever 100% effective, but vaccines for pertussis are 73% to 98% effective.

“I really plead with folks to get vaccinated, and it is incredibly safe,” Melnick said. “... I think it’s kind of alarming that our vaccination rates are so low for this. … I think with all the misinformation about vaccinations going on, I’m concerned that we’re going to see more other vaccine-preventable diseases.”