About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Whooping cough cases on the rise

Pertussis is back. Thirty-five cases of the disease have been reported in the region so far this year. The area had six cases last year.

“This has been a busy year for pertussis for the health district,” said Dr. Brooke Rossheim, director of the Rappahannock Area Health District.

Rossheim said he and his staff have found no link between cases and no cluster of cases, such as from a single school or day care center. Patients have been all ages and from every locality in the region, except King George County, he said.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, occurs in a natural cycle that sees a rise in cases every three to five years, said Sandra Sommer, quality assurance manager for the Virginia Department of Health in Richmond.

“We reached our low point in 2007. So we’re in the middle of an upswing,” Sommer said.

Virginia counted 222 cases of the disease last year.  Sommer said she does not  have a statewide count yet  for 2010.

“Based on what I’m seeing so far, I suspect that we’re going to have more cases reported this year than we  did last,” she said.

Pertussis is a cough illness, caused by bacteria. The  disease is passed from person to person through cough  droplets.

When children have the disease, they can have “cough spasms,” Rossheim said, or long coughing fits.  Frequently, they make a high-pitched wheeze or whoop when breathing in, hence the name whooping  cough.

(For more on pertussis, see the story in tomorrow’s paper.)