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Health Dept. sees increased number of whooping cough cases

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The Wisconsin State Department of Health Services says so far this year, there have been 327 whooping cough cases reported in the state, compared with 296 cases in all of 2010. The City of Milwaukee says there are 12 confirmed cases right now - three times what they would normally see for the month of November.

"We generally see a few dozen cases each year in the City of Milwaukee. We've seen two to three-fold increase for the month of November, and we fully expect to see additional confirmed cases moving into the holidays," Milwaukee Health Department Director Paul Biedrzycki said.

Milwaukee health officials are concerned about the low vaccination rates in Milwaukee schools, which makes children more vulnerable to the illness. Health officials say 78 to 79 percent of students are vaccinated, and they'd like that rate to be around 90 percent.

Waukesha County has the most confirmed cases, with 30, and 16 of those cases are in Menomonee Falls. Milwaukee County confirms 12 cases, and Ozaukee County has had 18 cases since August, with the majority of them in Mequon. Racine County reports three confirmed cases.

Milwaukee health officials say the increase is likely due to people not being vaccinated, but also because many are unaware that a booster is now recommended to keep the immunity current. This booster has only been around for about four years, so health officials say many providers and adults are unaware of the need. This booster is now recommended starting around the age of junior high.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease that is spread through the air by coughing. It generally begins with cold symptoms and a cough, which becomes much worse over one to two weeks. Symptoms usually include a long series of coughs, followed by a whooping cough. The illness is not usually serious in adults, but can be very serious for infants and toddlers, so health officials want to make sure children get the series of shots they need.