In addition to the plethora of health issues in Liberia, Ebola being at the top, another highly infectious disease is threatening young children, according to a blog post by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Liberia map/CIA
Liberia map/CIA

The bacterial infection, pertussis, or whooping cough has already infected more than 500 children in Maryland County in southern Liberia.

“Pertussis is an example of a terrible disease that’s preventable if children and babies are vaccinated,” said Nick Lobel-Weiss, an IRC health coordinator in Maryland County. “We’re working rapidly to get the message out to communities that parents need to get their kids with symptoms to health facilities for treatment now.”

Whooping cough is caused by the bacteria, Bordetella pertussis. This vaccine-preventable disease is spread through direct contact with respiratory discharges via the airborne route.

Pertussis goes through a series of stages in the infected person; initially a irritating cough followed by repeated, violent coughing. The disease gets its nickname by coughing without inhaling air giving the characteristic high-pitched whoop. Certain populations may not have the typical whoop like infants and adults.

It is highly communicable, especially in very early stages and the beginning of coughing episodes, for approximately the first 2 weeks. Then the communicability gradually decreases and at 3 weeks it is negligible, though the cough my last for months.

Pertussis is an endemic disease found worldwide. Those that are not immunized are susceptible to this disease. Young infants and school aged children (who are frequently the source of infection for younger siblings) are at greatest risk.

The IRC is already working closely with the county health team in the hardest hit areas of Maryland County, training and deploying teams of local volunteers to find children infected with whooping cough, assist parents in seeking treatment, and supporting campaigns to prevent further spread.

“There are a lot of people in this county working right now to protect these kids,” Lobel-Weiss said. “The people of Liberia have suffered enough. They don’t need this.”