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They call it the 100-day cough.

Those who have had whooping cough say there’s nothing like the coughing spasms that can leave you gasping for air.

Pertussis, which many thought had been all but eradicated, is making a comeback in a big way this cold-weather season.

There were only 10 cases in Erie County in 2008. The number jumped to 148 last year, and at the end of November there were 161 confirmed cases in the county.

Chautauqua County is particularly hard hit, with a spike in cases from two last year to 62 as of Nov. 30.

The number of cases in Niagara County more than doubled to 24.

The ailment is on the increase throughout New York State, where the outbreak is higher than the national average.

“We know there are more positive tests out there,” Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County health commissioner, said.

It’s not known whether the increase is due to more people contracting the disease or the result of more people being tested.

“We think it’s probably a combination of both,” she said.

One Southtowns woman who was recently diagnosed compared the fatigue she feels to that of pneumonia. The cough can linger for three months, and the disease can be dangerous for infants.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection that causes an uncontrollable, violent cough lasting several weeks or months, according to the state Health Department. Initial symptoms resemble the common cold, with runny nose, sneezing, mild cough and low-grade fever.

It progresses to episodes of severe coughing, which can be followed by a high pitched “whoop.”

The bacteria is spread through coughing or sneezing respiratory droplets. The incubation period is usually seven to 10 days.

A person is no longer contagious after taking antibiotics for five days, according to the Health Department.

Health officials believe the outbreak of pertussis may be due in part to the vaccine weakening sooner than expected. The protective effect weakens dramatically soon after a youngster gets the last of the five recommended shots around age 6, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in September.

The older vaccine was replaced in the mid-1990s with another version with fewer side effects. Many of those getting sick have been vaccinated against the disease.

But getting the vaccine still is important, Burstein said.

“People who have the vaccine are less likely to develop infections and are not as ill,” she said.

New York is one of 21 states where the pertussis outbreak is higher than the national incidence rate of 11.6 cases per 100,000 people. In New York, there were 14.5 cases per 100,000 people as of Nov. 23. More than 38,000 cases have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 49 states, as well as 16 deaths, mainly infants.

“It’s circulating in the community,” Burstein said. “That’s why it’s real important that everyone get immunized, especially people who come in contact with infants.”

New York State has a new law that will go into effect Jan. 13, requiring hospitals having a newborn nursery or providing obstetric services to offer the pertussis vaccine to parents and caregivers of newborns.

The idea is to cocoon the infant who has not been immunized by making sure the people surrounding the infant are immunized.

Disease on the rise

Whooping cough cases up sharply

Inidence by county for 2011 and 2012 (through Nov. 30, 2012)

Incidence/ 2011 2012* 100,000**

Cattaraugus 1 2 2.4

Chautauqua 2 62 45.5

Erie 148 161 17.3

Genesee 1 7 11.8

Niagara 10 24 11.1

Wyoming 4 4 9.4

*As of Nov. 30, 2012 ** For 2012

Source: New York State Health Department

email: bobrien@buffnews.com