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Whooping cough outbreak reported in North Carolina county

File photo of a school nurse preparing a vaccine against whooping cough.

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HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. — A North Carolina county health department has counted a total of 34 cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in a recent outbreak.

The Times-News of Hendersonville reports that the Henderson County Department of Public Health released its most recent count in the pertussis outbreak on Tuesday. It initially reported 21 cases on Dec. 8.

The health department says about 1,000 people in schools and the larger community have been identified as having close contact with someone who has the respiratory disease.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It is usually spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing or spending a lot of time with an infected person where you share the same breathing space.

Babies and young children are at greatest risk for serious, sometimes deadly complications, especially those who have not received all recommended doses of the DTaP vaccine, which protects against pertussis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of babies younger than 1 year old who get pertussis need hospital care for complications like pneumonia, convulsions, or trouble breathing.

The CDC says many babies who get whooping cough catch it from older siblings, parents, or caregivers who might not even know they have it.

The best way to prevent whooping cough is to get vaccinated and to keep babies and other people at high risk for pertussis complications away from infected people.

Locally, hospitals in the area, including Pardee UNC Health Care and Park Ridge Health, have implemented visitor restrictions in response to the outbreak. The health department strongly recommends people get vaccinated.