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Health & Human Services News

Health Alert: Confirmed Pertussis Cases in Buncombe


Health officials report two confirmed cases of pertussis (whooping cough) in Buncombe County during January. These two cases do not appear to be connected to each other, nor does either case appear to be connected to the recent Henderson County pertussis outbreak.

Pertussis is an infection that affects the upper airways and is easily spread from person-to-person by coughing or sneezing. Buncombe County Health and Human Services (BCHHS) urges residents to be alert for pertussis and to take the following steps to keep our community’s shield of protection strong against this illness.

Pertussis can spread rapidly in school, work and healthcare environments. Anyone can get pertussis, but it is especially dangerous, and can even be deadly, for babies. About 50% of all infants younger than one year of age who get pertussis are hospitalized. Most people who die from whooping cough are infants that are too young to be fully immunized.

At first, symptoms are typically like those of the common cold, including:

  • Runny nose
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild, occasional cough
  • Infants may have a pause in their breathing, known as apnea

After one to two weeks, symptoms can worsen to include:

  • Severe coughing fits or spells, followed by a high-pitched "whoop" sound when a breath is taken
  • Vomiting (throwing-up) after coughing fits, especially in young children
  • Exhaustion (feeling very tired) after coughing fits
  • The illness can be less severe and the typical "whoop" can be absent in teens and adults, especially those who have been immunized against pertussis.

Three simple steps can provide a shield of protection for individuals and their loved ones against pertussis and other deadly preventable diseases.

  • Step 1: Get Immunized

The best way to prevent pertussis is to get immunized. DTaP is the immunization given to infants and children starting at 2 months of age. Because young children are not adequately protected against pertussis until they have received at least three doses of DTaP, it is also especially important that family members, caregivers of infants, and members in our community are immunized against pertussis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommends a one-time Tdap booster for preteens, teens and adults. It is also recommended that all women receive a Tdap booster in the third trimester of each pregnancy, regardless of whether they were already immunized.

By staying up-to-date on immunizations, individuals provide a shield of protection against illness not only for themselves and their loved ones, but also for vulnerable populations like infants and small children, those with pre-existing health conditions, and the elderly.

Getting immunized is easy! You can get pertussis immunizations from your healthcare provider or from the BCHHS Immunization Clinic located at 53 South French Broad Avenue in downtown Asheville (across the street from United Way). The BCHHS Immunization Clinic (828-250-5096) offers walk-in immunizations between the hours of 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Monday-Friday; please check-in by 4:30 p.m.). 

  • Step 2: Practice Good Health Habits

Good health habits, like frequent handwashing or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, can help prevent the spread of pertussis and other illnesses.

  • Step 3: Sick? See your Health Care Provider

Early diagnosis and treatment of pertussis is very important to prevent spread of the infection. Anyone with symptoms of pertussis should stay home from school, work or other group activities and make an appointment with their doctor. Contact your health care provider if you or your child has symptoms of pertussis. Sometimes antibiotics are given to people who have been exposed to pertussis even if they don’t have symptoms. This is done to protect babies and other vulnerable people from the illness.

Visit buncombecounty.org/immunize for more information.