New Mexico health officials are reporting a pertussis, or whooping cough outbreak in McKinley County in northwest New Mexico. As of April 25th, there are 17 laboratory-confirmed cases of whooping cough and an additional 43 probable cases.

Counties of New Mexico
New Mexico map/US Government

When the New Mexico Department of Health first announced this outbreak on March 14th, there were eight laboratory-confirmed cases of whooping cough, with 15 probable cases These cases continue to be primarily occurring in school-aged children and their close household contacts.

Whooping cough, also called pertussis, is a highly contagious respiratory illness that spreads by coughing and sneezing while in close contact with others. Left untreated, it can spread from a single infected person for several weeks, with people in the early stage of illness being the most contagious.

Whooping cough can be a serious illness. Symptoms usually begin appearing as cold symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, sore throat and usually little or no fever. After several days, the cough may become more severe; it may come in spasms or as a series of coughs without a chance to breathe between coughs. There may be a gasp or “whoop” and/or gagging or vomiting at the end of the coughing spasm.

Infants, particularly those less than six months of age, who contract whooping cough are at increased risk of complications, hospitalization and death.

The following groups should be prioritized for immediate vaccination with an age-appropriate pertussis-containing vaccine:

  • All pregnant women during each pregnancy between the 27th and 36th weeks of pregnancy
  • Anyone caring for or visiting an infant under one year of age
  • All health care personnel who provide services to pregnant women and infants
  • All childcare personnel who work in settings that include infants

Early diagnosis and treatment of potential cases, and immediate reporting of cases to NMDOH for public health investigation and contact management, will help in limiting more cases from occurring. Healthcare providers should be vigilant for possible additional cases among their patients, especially infants and caregivers of infants.

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In addition, NMDOH recommends the following to help reduce the spread of whooping cough:

  • All pregnant women should receive a Tdap booster after the 20th week of pregnancy with each pregnancy
  • All infants and children should receive the primary series of pertussis vaccine, called DTaP, at 2, 4, 6 and 12-18 months of age
  • All children should receive a booster dose, called DTaP, prior to school entry at 4 to 6 years of age
  • Children between 7 and 10 years of age who are behind on pertussis vaccine should get a Tdap
  • Children should receive a booster dose of Tdap at entry to middle school if they haven’t received one previously
  • All teens or adults should receive a Tdap booster if one was not given at entry to middle school
  • Anyone caring for or spending time with an infant should receive a Tdap booster if they have not received one in the past, including people 65 and older
  • All healthcare personnel should receive a Tdap booster, as soon as possible, if they have not received or are unsure if they have previously received a dose of Tdap