The Waco-McLennan County Health Department has a warning tonight for Central Texas parents. Investigators have begun looking into eight cases of whooping cough (pertussis) with no clear connection between them.
Without that common thread, there's no way to know how the disease got here and how it keeps spreading.
Norma Barriencos, a Central Texas parent, keeps a close eye on her girls. Two arrived prematurely with weakened immune systems. So when she learned the Waco-McLeannan County Health Department announced its investigation into eight apparently unrelated cases of whooping cough, she took notice.
"I have done my research, because my kids were born premature, so I've always been aware of it," said Barriencos.
She said she's concerned about a recent rise in cases in Central Texas, cases that keep doctors like Celeste Hecox, with Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Pediatrics, busy diagnosing pertussis.
Dr. Hecox says the first stage of the disease mimics a cold or flu, which most people treat at home. Dr. Hecox says she doesn't usually see patients until they reach the second stage of the disease.
"There's not much fever, or very low grade fever associated with it, but it's a cough to the point of, you know, breathlessness. They'll get really red in the face, then they'll have this, (inhales) this big inspiration, and that's where the whooping part of whooping cough comes from," she said.
From there, pertussis gets even worse with coughing fits that trigger intense vomiting.
In the very young, whooping cough can kill, while in adults it turns into the dreaded "hundred-day cough."
Unlike colds and the flu, whooping cough (pertussis) is more common in the summertime.
There is a vaccine for the illness available. The vaccine does not last forever, so a booster may be needed as you get older.
”Those kids that had at least one vaccine are gonna have about half the symptoms, half of the morbidity and mortality, as well as half the length of time of their symptoms," said Dr. Hecox.
Meantime Norma Barriencos aims to make sure her girls never even see those symptoms. She's glad to get the health department's warning. Now, she'll stay a little more vigilant.
"I guess a little bit more because mine are premature so they'd easily get it," said Norma Barriencos.
Dr. Hecox warns that pertussis is very contagious. If you come into contact with anyone that has whooping cough, seek medical treatment as soon as you can.