FARMINGTON — A pair of Navajo Preparatory School students this week came down with whooping cough, which has reached record highs in New Mexico and nationwide this year.

The students are being treated at school, and all other students and staff have been vaccinated with TdaP, said Betty Ojaye, executive director of the Navajo Prep. TdaP is the adult booster vaccine, whereas DTap is the child vaccine.

"We are working with the New Mexico Department of Health," said Ojaye.

Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable, violent coughing, according to the National Library of Medicine.

The coughing can make it hard to breathe. A deep "whooping" sound is often heard when the patient tries to take a breath.

The disease can cause permanent disability in infants, and even death, though it is not a serious threat to young adults.

"We'd like to emphasize that ... all adults should get (TdaP) at one point in time," said David Selvage, an infectious disease epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health. "All of this activity is about protecting the babies."

The number of cases this year have been exceptional, though last year's were high, too.

In 2011, the nation had 13,491 cases by Oct. 29. This year, 34,198 cases were reported by Oct. 27, according to the Center for Disease and Control and Prevention.

"There's a few reasons," said Selvage.

Firstly, the medical field has developed better and more frequent testing than in years past.


Secondly, the medical field also has discovered that the vaccination wears off in adulthood quicker than was previously thought.

Also, fewer children are getting vaccinated, which makes them more vulnerable.

Of the 635 cases in New Mexico so far this year, 63 were infants, 21 of whom had to be hospitalized. One infant, and one child so far have died.

Last year, 277 cases were reported statewide.

The numbers, which are in line with national trends, are the highest they have been since 1959.

San Juan County is in the lower third for cases reported statewide, Selvage said.

Though San Juan County has only reported 11 cases this year, two of them are from Navajo Prep.

"Kids in late grade school which is where we're seeing a big bump have vaccines that are wearing off," Selvage said.

The infection usually lasts 6 weeks, though, on average, it is contagious for four to 10 days.

Most children are immunized before entering school, though the immunizations wear off after several years hence the need for booster vaccines later in life.

"New Mexico is no exception," Selvage said.