WASHINGTON — It started off looking like a regular virus, but when Rebekah Stutzman’s 8-year-old daughter Lizzie couldn’t seem to shake it, Rebekah went to the doctor and was given medicine for a sinus infection.
After seeing three doctors, Rebekah finally got a diagnosis of whooping cough from an infectious disease specialist. Rebekah says because her daughter had been vaccinated, her Baltimore-based doctors did not believe her daughter could have whooping cough.
“She was vaccinated, she had all of her vaccinations at the right times,” Stutzman said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been documenting the rising cases of whooping cough. Last year the CDC reported close to 33,000 cases of Whooping Cough, also known as Pertussis. That is a 15 percent spike in cases, compared to 2013.
“Pertussis is back, it has been back for the last ten years or so,” says Dr. Eric Stern, the chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Georgetown University Medical Center in D.C.
But Stern says clinicians are often missing the diagnosis.
“What’s going on is what you are taught in medical school is to look for patients to have a whoop or classical presentation of a disease,” Dr. Stern says.
However, Dr. Stern adds you don’t have to have a whoop to have pertussis. Other than infants, one of the highest at risk groups right now is 10- to 14-year-olds who are vaccinated.
“What we are seeing in that age group are a-typical presentations of the disease, where they might have a prolonged cough illness of more than two weeks, but that doesn’t mean they are not infectious to others,” Dr. Stern says.
Dr. Stern thinks that whooping cough is under-diagnosed in the medical community. He is hoping for a better awareness of pertussis among the medical community, and urges primary care doctors to refer patients to infectious disease specialist if they are unsure whether the patient has whooping cough.
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