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Whooping Cough Continues Spreading Across North Texas

DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - A whooping cough epidemic continues to spread across North Texas.  New cases have been reported in Parker and Wise counties.

School officials in the city of Springtown sent letters home warning to parents.  So Casey Beam was more than a little concerned when her 18-month-old daughter, Jenna, started to cough. "She would wake up and she couldn't catch her breath," remembered Beam.  "She even threw up a little from coughing so hard."

A pediatrician confirmed Jenna did not have pertussis, or whooping cough.  But, health officials say her mother was right to be concerned. Jenna's older sibling attends Springtown Elementary School, a campus where whooping cough cases have already been reported.

Whooping Cough is extremely contagious and spread through secretions from sneezes and coughs.

"I think people are taking it seriously," said Azle pediatrician, Jennifer Hudman, "because it is so contagious and there are so many non-vaccinated adults out there.  Coughing, and a little bit of a runny nose and that's all it takes." With that in mind, Dr. Hudman is making sure patients' immunizations are up to date and encouraging parents to make sure the entire household is protected—especially when newborns are involved.

Infants aren't vaccinated until they're two months old, so until then doctors say overprotective parenting isn't just okay—it's encouraged. "It's okay to ask if the grandparents and if the aunts and uncles have been vaccinated for the whooping cough.  It's really, really important and can protect your baby and save the baby's life."

According to state health officials, two whooping cough deaths have been reported this year.  Both involved infants too young to be immunized.
Whooping cough has historically occurred in waves—with peaks every three to five years.  In 2012, the cycle appeared to be starting over again as there were 2,218 cases—more than double the 2011 count.  The trend continued into 2013.

By September 10th, there were 2,160 cases reported in Texas—putting the state on track to see more cases than have been recorded in half a century.

Health officials say there are several factors contributing to the increase, including heightened awareness, better testing, and waning immunity in adults and adolescents.

It's one of the reasons Dr. Hudman is also reminding parents that older, pre-teen children need whooping cough booster shots.  And that same advice goes for any adults in close contacts with infants -- including caregivers.

Pregnant women should also get vaccinated because it will give their newborns some immunity until they're old enough to get their own vaccines. "We're about to have another baby in the family," says Beam, "a newborn, so we're all getting the shots."

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