LINDENHURST, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- An alarming rise in a potentially fatal bacterial infection known as whooping cough has prompted a warning from the Suffolk County Health Department.
It's a tell-tale sign winter is coming -- children and their colds.
But what's going around this year is a potentially fatal bacterial cough known as pertussis or whooping cough, reports CBS 2's Emily Smith.
It's a chronic cough, almost a barking sound, that can last more than three months, and it is spread easily through droplets.
"My wife is on a bus, educational bus, so she is with kids all the time every day. But she hasn't been sick yet," local resident Steven Piering said Tuesday.
WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs On The Story
The whooping cough outbreak started with 13 cases in Smithtown on Long Island in June. Since then it has spread to more than a dozen districts in Suffolk County.
The most recent case of whooping cough involves a student at 5th Avenue Elementary in Northport, where 11 cases have already been reported. On Tuesday night, parents told CBS 2's Hazel Sanchez they are growing concerned.
"That's kind of scary. I wonder what's going on, why this outbreak started. What's going on?" one resident asked.
"They get colds at home. They bring it on the bus. They bring it to school. They're bringing it home," a school bus driver told WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs.
And what's particularly concerning to health officials is this most recent outbreak has the highest number of cases reported since 2006 when there were 110 for the year. Now it's 216 cases of whooping cough for the year so far.
What's causing this sudden and sharp rise in whooping cough has yet to be determined, said Dr. Dennis Russo with the Suffolk County Health Department. He said it might be as simple as more doctors are detecting and diagnosing it, or it could be an increase in some parents' decision to forgo vaccinating their kids.
"We like to have everyone vaccinated and create a cocoon effect, so that everyone around them is vaccinated and the disease is milder," Dr. Russo said.
"I'm not too concerned because my son has the vaccine," added Maria Sangiorgi of Lindenhurst.
Health officials said early detection and antibiotic treatment are the keys to better health and preventing the spread of whooping cough.
The majority of the students who have been infected with whooping cough had been immunized, which health officials said may account for their milder illness.
Babies who are not yet fully immunized are the most at risk of death from the infection.
Have you or someone you know ever had whooping cough? What was it like? Please share your story in the comments section below.
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