Flickr photo

ITHACA, N.Y. — There have been 21 cases of whooping cough so far this year, and nine in November alone, according to the Tompkins County Health Department.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial disease spread by coughing or sneezing. It can affect anyone, but is especially concerning for infants too young to be vaccinated. In a news release Monday, the Tompkins County Health Department is reminding the community of the symptoms of whooping cough and to make sure vaccines are up to date.

The amount of cases this year is a jump from 2016 and 2015, which only had four cases each year. But the health department said whooping cough, or pertussis, is cyclical in nature. In 2014, there were 14 cases and in 2012, there were 105 cases.

Whooping cough can start with mild cold symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, mild fever and cough. But within two weeks, the cough can become more severe and is characterized by episodes of numerous rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched “whoop,” the health department says. Coughing episodes may persist for as long as two or three months and are more frequent at night.

Anyone with a persistent cough should contact their doctor.

Related: Whooping cough identified in 2 schools in Ithaca, 1 in Newfield

Karen Bishop, director of community health at Tompkins County Health Department said in a news release that complications from pertussis may include pneumonia, middle ear infection, loss of appetite, dehydration, seizures, and episodes of brief cessation of breathing.

“Infants are particularly at risk from older siblings, parents, or caregivers who may be carrying the bacteria. The incubation period is usually 5 to 10 days but may be as long as 21 days,” Bishop said.

Bishop added that if anyone develop symptoms, they should stay away from work, school and social gatherings until they are medically evaluated and treated.

Whooping cough was identified in some school in Tompkins County in November. The school districts sent out notices to warn parents.

The health department said if the doctor suspects that you or your child may have pertussis:

  • A test can be given to determine if you are positive for pertussis. An antibiotic may be prescribed.
  • If given an antibiotic, be sure to stay home, out of school and work, away from extended family and friends, until at least five days of the antibiotic are completed.
  • If your child is diagnosed with pertussis, call the school to inform them.

The health department reminds people to make sure their vaccines are up to date because “the single most effective control measure is maintaining the highest possible level of immunization in the community. Children ages 2 months to 6 years should receive all age appropriate doses of DTaP vaccine which includes a booster dose between the ages of 4 and 6 years. Children 7 years of age and older, adolescents, and adults should receive a different pertussis containing vaccine – Tdap – a one-time dose that will ensure ongoing protection.”

Tdap and DTaP vaccines are available at local providers or at the Tompkins County Health Department. Call 607-274-6616 for an appointment.

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.