Oakland County issues warning for whooping cough

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published January 26, 2017

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Oakland County Health Division have issued a health advisory following a number of identified pertussis cases, commonly referred to as whooping cough.

The alert includes Oakland County, which has seen cases in Birmingham. Two students at Pierce Elementary School in Birmingham were diagnosed with the disease earlier this month. Both students were kept home from school for several days and have since returned to class. No other cases have been reported in the Birmingham Public Schools district since.

“There have been 56 confirmed cases of pertussis in Oakland County since Nov. 1,” said Kathleen Forzley, the health officer for Oakland County’s Health Division. “This is compared to last year, when we had only 10 cases. Every year is different, so finding a trend is difficult.”

Although several cases have been reported in Oakland County, the Oakland County Health Division is reluctant to state which communities have had confirmed cases.

“We never release the location of communities that have had cases of communicable diseases because people may interpret that as an advisory to avoid those communities, when they are no more likely to contract it there than in any other community in the area,” remarked Forzley.

Whooping cough has a distinctive cough, and the Oakland County Health Department describes symptoms as severe and prolonged dry coughing; a runny nose; mild fever; red, watery eyes; and congestion.

“The thing about pertussis is it can be a mild disease and you don’t realize you have it because the symptoms can be so similar to the common cold,” said Forzley. “This can mean trouble because although it isn’t really dangerous to most people, it can be deadly to others, especially young children.”

It is unknown why the increase has appeared this year. Forzley hopes it is only because awareness of health issues such as whooping cough is so much higher than in the past.

“We are especially careful about daycares because young children can be very susceptible because they may not have been fully immunized yet,” said Forzley. “Preschools have been very diligent at testing for pertussis this year, so hopefully we are seeing a case of ‘if you look more, you find more.’”

Forzley noted that no matter the reason for the uptick in cases, everyone needs to be on alert, particularly families with young children.

“Make sure you get younger children immunized as soon as possible and that older children and adults, particularly those who spend time around younger children, get their boosters so they don’t pass on this very contagious disease,” explained Forzley. “We also advise pregnant women to get a booster to protect their child early in life. If you suspect you or a family member may have whooping cough, don’t wait to confirm the symptoms, go right to the doctor.”