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Whooping cough cases keep rising in Henderson County, now at 70

News graphic by BPR, photo by CDC
News graphic by BPR, photo by CDC

The number of confirmed whooping cough cases in Henderson County has risen to 70, according to an update from the Henderson County Department of Health and Human Services. This marks the most significant local outbreak of the bacterial infection, which affects the airways and lungs, since 2017.

Last Thursday, the number of cases was at 53.

Public Information Officer Andrew Mundhenk told BPR on Monday no one has been hospitalized so far, and most cases continue to be in school-aged children. Whooping cough, or pertussis, is highly contagious, spreading easily when someone coughs or sneezes. Officials say the increase in cases is not unusual, noting that most of the transmission is occurring within households.

Health Director Steve Smith says the department became aware of the first case on April 3. And while the majority of cases are among school-aged children, many adults are diagnosed - including some who didn't even realize they had whooping cough. Smith says that’s because the illness often presents as a common cold.

“So what we realized in talking with some of these folks is that they've had pertussis and never realized that. And as you might imagine they are infectious and transmitting this disease and that may have gone on for two weeks without knowing that they had pertussis. So we expect that there will be more cases and that it's going to take us a while to get ahead of this,” Smith said.

There have been a handful of cases reported in neighboring Buncombe and Transylvania counties - but so far, contract tracing has not uncovered a clear connection to the Henderson County outbreak.

As health officials track the spread, they continue to stress the importance of covering your mouth or nose when you cough and sneeze, along with frequent handwashing, to prevent transmission. Smith says the community should remain mindful of symptoms and remember that vaccination provides the most effective protection against whooping cough.

Residents who need a Tdap vaccine can call their healthcare provider or the Henderson County Health Department at 828-692-4223.

For further information on pertussis, visit

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.
Jose Sandoval is the afternoon host and reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio.
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