Photo by Micah Taylor

ORANGE COUNTY – Counties west of the Triangle were hit hard by pertussis, or whooping cough, just before the start of the school year, and local officials are taking steps to keep your children safe.

“Children younger than a year old, according to the statistics, about half of those children will end up in the hospital,” Orange County Community Health Services Supervisor, Judy Butler with statistics regarding those who catch whooping cough. “Out of those that end up in the hospital, one to two percent will die.”

She says it can be severe for others as well, but the biggest concern is for babies, especially those younger than two month because they are unable to receive the vaccine.

Last week, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services approved free whooping cough vaccines in the three affected counties: Davidson, Forsyth, and Rockingham. In mid-August, more than 325 cases were reported across the three counties.

Butler says that hasn’t changed the process in which vaccines are given in Orange County.

“If a child is 18 or younger, they may qualify for free vaccines,” Butler says. “There’s a list of qualifications with one of those being children who don’t have insurance, then the vaccine is free. But for adults, unless they are pregnant, there is a charge for the vaccine.”

You can consult your doctor or the Orange County Health Department for more information on eligibility.

Butler says the Orange County Health Department offers and promotes DTaP and Tdap vaccinations year round.

“We technically give more right now because of the requirement for kindergarten entry, and it’s a requirement for sixth grade entry,” Butler says. “So we actually give more doses this time of year. But, we really push it all year.”

Last year there were 23 cases of whooping cough in Orange County. It’s not as simple as just treating the confirmed cases. Butler says 367 people who came in contact with those 23 affected had to be contacted and checked.

Butler says whooping cough can be hard to detect because it starts as a cold.

“…which is a pain, because we can’t assume everyone with a cold has pertussis,” Butler says. “But when it develops into a cough that persists for two weeks or longer or becomes severe—especially in younger children, they may have what’s called fits of coughing where they cough, cough, cough, cough, but then finally breathe in. Sometimes with that inspiration there is almost a whooping sound.”

Statewide, officials are urging people to get vaccinated, even though there may not be reports in your county.

For more information on whooping cough, click here.

For more information on the Orange County Health Department, click here.