DOH investigating whooping cough cases on Hawaii Island

The state Department of Health is investigating two confirmed cases of pertussis — also known as whooping cough — and identified eight probable cases in two separate households on Hawaii Island.

Both households have school-age children that attend local schools but are in geographically distinct areas of the island, according to the DOH, which did not name the schools.


The DOH also noted the exposures were not travel-related.

The department is working with the families and schools to identify close contacts and encourage them to seek medical attention for preventive care as well as testing if symptomatic. No one was hospitalized as of Monday.

These confirmed cases follow five previous confirmed cases of whooping cough in Oahu visitors among a single household in February 2024, which included a child who was hospitalized. The Hawaii Island cases are not connected with the February cluster.

From 2019-2023, there were 90 confirmed and probable whooping cough cases reported in Hawaii, including 28 cases linked to three outbreaks. The last case prior to the currently reported cases in 2024 occurred in October 2023.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by bacteria, the DOH said.

It can cause severe coughing fits (up to 10 weeks or more), followed by a high-pitched “whoop” sound when breathing in.

Whooping cough can lead to serious complications, especially in infants, such as pneumonia, dehydration, seizures and brain damage. Infants may not cough at all. Instead, they may have apnea (life-threatening pauses in breathing) or struggle to breathe.

Members of the public are encouraged to see a doctor for treatment if they or their child are: experiencing symptoms, such as runny nose, fever and coughing violently and rapidly; struggling to breathe; turning blue or purple.

The best way to guard against whooping cough is by getting the recommend vaccinations, according to the DOH.

Two vaccines used in the U.S. help prevent whooping cough are DTaP and Tdap. Infants and children are recommended to complete a series of DTaP doses. Adolescents are recommended to receive one dose of Tdap preferably at age 11 or 12 years old. Women should get a Tdap dose during the third trimester of each pregnancy to help protect their babies early in life.

Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hawaii’s 2022-2023 kindergarten coverage rate for DTaP was 87.0% compared to a national average of 92.7%. Compared to the previous year, Hawaii had the largest increase in vaccination exemptions.

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