Whooping Cough a Whopping Concern for Washington Parents

As a Washington resident, there is only a slim chance that you have not heard about the 2012 whooping cough outbreak. There have been 1,300 cases reported so far this year, a 10-fold increase of last year’s cases. The increase in cases is so pronounced that it has been declared an epidemic. But are you aware of the danger your family could be in as a result of the whooping cough epidemic?

Whooping Cough: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

A stuffy nose, a sore throat, some minor congestion or mild cough: caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, whooping cough initially presents with the same symptoms as a common cold. These seemingly benign irritations, however, are followed 10 to 12 days later by a violent and persistent cough. The name comes from the awful sound of a child trying to breath after a fit of coughing – the forceful inhale often makes a distinct whooping sound.

In adults and older children, the expectation is that the cough will resolve in one to two months. Infants, however, are at a higher risk of whooping cough complications including pneumonia and even death.

Potential complications include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Convulsions
  • Permanent seizure disorder
  • Nose bleeds
  • Ear infections
  • Brain damage
  • Cerebral hemorrhage
  • Mental retardation
  • Apnea

What You Need to Know

In case the mobilization of Washington state health resources, as well as federal involvement, did not already indicate that whooping cough is a real problem, consider the following:

  • Not just children can be infected. Even adults vaccinated in their youth can catch whooping cough, causing weeks of illness and discomfort and also putting any children around them at risk for contracting the disease.
  • Though not often fatal for older children and adults, coughing can be so severe as to result in vomiting, loss of consciousness and even broken ribs.
  • The booster vaccine should be given around the age of 11 or 12 and every 10 years thereafter. Many adults do not even realize that they and their children have lost their original immunity.
  • Many parents have opted out of vaccinating their children. This increases the vulnerable population as well as the potential for children to carry the disease home to younger siblings.
  • The NIH recommends that children under 7 who have not been vaccinated be kept home from school and public gatherings and isolated from those suspected to be infected.
  • One in five infants with whooping cough develop pneumonia.
  • Before the vaccine was introduced in the 1940s, thousands of children per year died of the infection.
  • Because of the mildness of early whooping cough symptoms, doctors may misdiagnose the condition until it is too late.

Misdiagnosis May Lead to Death

Two years ago, in 2010, California experienced a whooping cough epidemic that led to 10 deaths. Eight of those deaths were infants who were misdiagnosed and thus not treated early enough to prevent their deaths. Early symptoms of whooping cough are difficult to differentiate from indicators of ailments such as the common cold, flu, sinus infection or asthma. Even in the midst of an outbreak, doctors may fail to recognize whooping cough and not start treatment early enough to be effective against the disease. Because infant immune systems are so vulnerable, babies with whooping cough may deteriorate very quickly.

Correct diagnosis for both adults and children is crucial since whooping cough is so highly contagious. Infants who are infected often catch it from an older sibling or parent who has no idea that they have the illness. If you or your children are not up to date on the whooping cough vaccine, consider getting the booster. For those who have opted out of vaccination, be extra vigilant and cautious at the first signs of what may seem to be just a cold.

If you have reason to believe your child may have been exposed to whooping cough or even if your parental instincts tell you it’s a possibility, do not let a doctor talk you out of it. The test for whooping cough is simple – a quick nose or throat swab – but it may save your child’s life.

Advocacy for You

Misdiagnosis of life threatening conditions is a serious issue and can occur due to the lack of vigilance and proper consideration on the part of doctors and their staff. Many times permanent complications and even death can result from this negligence, whereas proper care would have prevented them. If your life has been altered due to misdiagnosis of whooping cough or any other illness, you may be entitled to compensation. Please contact us for a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.