Press Release

December 13, 2011


IDPH Alerts Public to Pertussis Outbreak

Increase in “Whooping Cough” cases concentrated in Cook, Collar Counties; Health officials urge protection for infants, young children

CHICAGO – The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is alerting the public to a marked increase of pertussis cases (also known as “Whooping Cough”) due to a series of outbreaks primarily concentrated in Cook County and the surrounding collar counties of Chicago. As of today, 1,149 cases have been reported statewide. Of those cases, the majority have been reported in McHenry (227), DuPage (217), Cook (275) and Lake (112) Counties.

Although pertussis can affect any age group, infants – especially those too young to be vaccinated – are at especially high-risk for contracting the disease. Therefore, health officials are also strongly encouraging parents, other family members, caregivers and all who come in contact with young infants to be vaccinated against pertussis.

“In general, the majority of pertussis cases, hospitalizations, and deaths occur in infants less than two months old, who are too young to be vaccinated so the key is protecting these infants and limiting their exposure,” said IDPH Acting Director Dr. Kenneth Soyemi. “Pertussis vaccination for infants begins at two months, but young infants are not adequately protected until the initial series of three shots is complete at six months of age.”

Pertussis is spread to others through direct contact with bacteria from nasal and throat discharges from coughing and sneezing. Symptoms usually occur five to 10 days after exposure, but can take as long as 21 days. The first symptoms are similar to those of a common cold - a runny nose, sneezing, low-grade fever and a mild, occasional cough. The cough gradually becomes severe and, after one to two weeks, the patient has spasmodic bursts of numerous, rapid coughs. The characteristic high-pitched "whoop," which is more common in children, comes from breathing in after a coughing episode.

Pregnant women may be vaccinated against pertussis before or during pregnancy, or after giving birth. Fathers may be vaccinated at any time, but preferably before the birth of their baby.

Others who may have contact with infants, including family members, healthcare workers, and childcare workers, should also be vaccinated, preferably at least two weeks before beginning close contact with the infant.

IDPH officials are urging all who have been in close contact to a person with confirmed or suspected pertussis to seek medical attention immediately for antibiotic treatment – even if they have recently been vaccinated against pertussis. Over-the-counter medication is ineffective in treating the disease.

If the illness is confirmed by a medical provider, IDPH officials recommend staying home from work or school during the first five days of treatment. IDPH also recommends frequent hand-washing and good respiratory hygiene (covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue; disposing of soiled tissues) to prevent further spread of pertussis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also stresses the importance of a pertussis booster for people between 11-64, and people 65-and-over who are caregivers for young children.

Pertussis outbreaks are cyclical, with a dramatic spike in reported cases occurring every 4-5 years. The 1,149 reported pertussis cases so far for 2011 have already surpassed the total 648 cases from 2009.

For more information, please visit


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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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