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HOUSTON--A significant increase in pertussis, or whooping cough, cases in Texas prompted the Texas Department of State Health Services to issue a state-wide advisory promoting caution and vaccinations.

Calling it a compelling health issue state health officials revealed that there have been 1,099 cases of pertussis reported in Texas through August 23rd compared to a total of 961 in 2011.

Six deaths have been reported so far this year. Five of the deaths occurred in infants under two months of age. A sixth death was an unvaccinated child with extensive pre-existing conditions, according to state records.

Pertussis is a contagious bacterial illness usually spread by coughing or sneezing. Cold-like symptoms and a mild cough can progress in a week or more to severe coughing. Young children are at a higher risk because of the threat of apnea, a pause or inability to breathe.

Infants especially under the age of two may cough to the point of turning blue. They can stop breathing. They can have really potentially deadly consequences from that, said Helene Sheena, MD with the Department of Pediatrics at Houston s Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women get a pertussis vaccine any time after 20 weeks gestation. Medical professions, including Sheena, recommend coccooning as well. They say that anyone who is near a young child, whether a family member, caregiver, or health professional, be vaccinated for pertussis as well.

Like grandparents, aunts, uncles, the nanny, babysitter, make sure they all have up to date pertussis vaccines, says Sheena.

The State Health Department says the most notable increases this year have been the counties near Waco, West Texas near Midland and El Paso and south Texas near Corpus Christi and Brownsville--Hidalgo, Bell, McLennan, El Paso, Cameraon, Midland, Whichita, Winkler, Jim Wells, San Patricio, Coryell, Falls and Palo Pinto Counties. Of the 254 counties in Texas, pertussis has been reported in 87 counties.

There has not been a significant increase in the Houston area.  Harris County Public Health reports 24 confirmed cases this year and 12 probable cases of pertussis: numbers locally that are not out of the norm.

For additional information on whooping cough and recommended vaccinations: dhsh.state.tx.us.

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