ST. LOUIS – Saint Louis County is seeing a surge in cases of pertussis.
More commonly known as "whooping cough," pertussis is highly contagious, spreading through the air via small droplets when infected people cough, sneeze or talk.
One hundred and eighty-five cases have been reported in the county so far this year - two-thirds of them in the past six weeks.
Saint Louis County Department of Health contagious disease expert Dr. Faisal Khan says the county is not alone in reporting an usually high number of cases this year.
"There are jurisdictions all over the country that have reported an increase in pertussis cases," Khan said. "California is one major example."
More than 7,200 cases of pertussis have been reported in California, the most seen in that state in over 60 years.
Dr. Khan thinks part of the problem is that fewer people are getting vaccinated against pertussis. Missouri has one of the lowest immunization rates in the country.
Khan says early symptoms of pertussis resemble those of a common cold or flu, and include runny nose, sneezing, and a mild cough.
"And over ten to twelve days, the cough may become much worse," said Khan, "with fits of coughing that produce a whooping sound, and the cough may in fact last for weeks."
Dr. Khan recommends that people with a cough see a doctor and avoid contact with others. Pregnant women, infants and young children are at greatest risk of developing serious complications.