ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) _ Cases of whooping cough, a highly contagious disease commonly thought to mainly infect children, have been reported in numbers four times higher than last year and the disease is being detected increasingly this year in adults, state officials said.
The rising number of cases in Alaska could be caused in part by a new test that is better at detecting whooping cough, known as pertussis, and an increase in doctors submitting the tests, said Dr. Beth Funk, acting state epidemiologist.
Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 24, the state Section of Epidemiology reported 46 cases of the illness in children and adults. That's more than four times as many cases as were reported during the same period last year.
The state reported 28 cases of pertussis on the Kenai Peninsula, 10 cases in Anchorage, two in Wasilla, four in Delta Junction, one in Fairbanks and one in Klawock.
Pertussis is a potentially deadly bacterial infection and children younger than 6 months have the highest death rate, Funk said. Young children typically develop a cough that lasts at least two weeks. Children can make a whooping sound when struggling to breathe between coughs.
Half of those infected with pertussis this year in Alaska were adults. The bacterial infection in adults can be milder than in children and seem like a cold, however, health officials said adults must get treatment to avoid spreading the disease.
``Because adults become ill, they put young infants at risk and they're the ones that can die,'' Funk said.
State health officials are urging parents to make sure their children get the full series of pertussis vaccinations. They are asking doctors to watch for the infection in people of all ages.
The Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services has free doses of the pertussis vaccine for children, said Hisa Fallico, the department's supervisor for disease prevention and control.
Vaccine-preventable diseases are becoming less common nationwide, but whooping cough is an exception, said Laurel Wood, manager of the state's immunization program. Almost 19,000 cases were reported nationwide in 2004 _ the highest number in four decades, she said.