Whooping cough on the rise in San Juan County

Joshua Kellogg
Health care

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Department of Health has issued an alert to San Juan County health providers after seeing a significant increase in cases of whooping cough.

Seven confirmed and probable cases of pertussis (whooping cough) have been identified this year and 11 suspect cases are being investigated, according to state health department, which issued the alert on Friday.

David Selvage, infectious disease epidemiology bureau chief, said six of the confirmed and probable whooping cough cases occurred in the last three months along with several of the suspect cases.

“We suddenly have a fairly large number of suspect cases,” Selvage said.

Most of the cases involve elementary school age children between nine and 11-years-old.

Selvage said a similar trend is happening nationwide as immunity from the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, or TDaP, vaccination starts to wear off before students receive a required booster shot prior to entering middle school.

The seven confirmed and probable cases include two infants one of which was hospitalized. Selvage did not have additional information on the condition of the hospitalized infant.

Selvage said Infants typically don’t have immunity against whooping cough, which makes them more susceptible to contracting the illness. And, according to the Health Department's website, "babies who get pertussis are the group at greatest risk of complications, including pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death."

“All the work we do around pertussis is directed at protecting infants,” Selvage said.

The number of whooping cough cases statewide is trending down this year with about 201 cases as of Dec. 5 compared to the 371 confirmed or probable cases documented in 2014, according to Selvage.

Adults and children can take steps to help protect themselves from catching whooping cough.

Selvage said people should make sure they are up to date on their vaccinations if they work around infants.

Being up to date on immunizations is important and people can contact their doctor or public health clinic to ensure they are in compliance.

All women between the 27th and 36th week of pregnancy need a TDaP vaccine to help protect the fetus, Selvage said. The vaccination will pass to the fetus and help protect the baby when it's born.

Whooping cough is usually identifiable by a person having a cough longer than two weeks and having one of several symptoms. Those symptoms include making a whooping sound while coughing, coughing until a person can no longer breathe and coughing fits that cause vomiting.

If a person presents these symptoms, Selvage said it might be related to pertussis and they should seek medical attention.

For more information on whooping cough, visit the Health Department website at

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-462.