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Henderson Co. whooping cough update: 50+ cases; worst outbreak in 7 years

Lab worker at the CDC's Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Lab worker at the CDC's Pertussis and Diphtheria Laboratory.

Henderson County health officials are facing the biggest outbreak of whooping cough in the county in seven years.

Retiring Health Director Steve Smith says the county, as of Thursday, has seen 53 cases since early April. It’s cause for concern but still just half of the caseload Henderson recorded in 2017, a notable year for whooping cough spread locally.

“We unfortunately experienced a rather larger one that began around the end of 2017 and then transitioned, rolled over into 2018. About the time that outbreak ended, I believe we experienced 95 cases,” Smith said.

In North Carolina, pertussis cases have been on the decline since 2019 according to a vaccine-preventable diseases report from 2022.

In 2019, NC reported 496 cases, then in 2020 there were 191 cases, and then less than 60 cases reported in 2021 and 2022.

Henderson County Department of Public Health Communications Manager Andrew Mundhenk emphasizes this is a community outbreak and not tied to one specific location. He also added that most of the transmission is occurring within families.

The department became aware of the first case on April 3 and the outbreak is confined to Henderson County, but health officials in neighboring Buncombe, Transylvania and Polk counties are carefully monitoring the situation.

Mundhenk said people should be aware of whooping cough symptoms and the department’s biggest concern is for infants, pregnant women and those who are immunocompromised.

“If you or your child has symptoms, we encourage you to contact your healthcare provider earlier than you normally may,” Mundhenk said. “A healthcare provider can assess your symptoms and advise on what you should do next. Treating pertussis early can make the illness less serious.”

Henderson County health officials also emphasized the importance of practicing good hygiene.

“Covering coughs, sneezes and washing your hands often. These same measures used for other respiratory illnesses can also prevent the spread of whooping cough.”

Residents who need a Tdap vaccine can call their healthcare provider or the Henderson County Health Department at 828-692-4223.

For further information on pertussis, visit cdc.gov/pertussis.

Jose Sandoval is the afternoon host and reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio.