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Health officials warn of pertussis outbreak

READ MORE: Health officials warn of pertussis outbreak

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Most parents keep a close eye on their children, making sure to keep them safe and healthy. Now, though, some parents are worried their direct contact with their children may make them sick.

The CDC says an outbreak of whooping cough is sweeping the country, and it may be closer than you think. The highly contagious disease has infected 17,000 people nationwide already this year and has the potential to kill.

"This is unprecedented," pediatrician Dr. David Hill said. "We're already at twice the number of cases that we've seen in any year since the late 1950s, and it's definitely hitting home."

The New Hanover County Health Department says there have been 366 cases of whooping cough in North Carolina this year, and two of those confirmed cases are in the county.

The disease is especially harmful to young children who can catch the cough from caregivers.

Health care professional say you can keep the disease away, though, by getting vaccinated.

"Make sure that your children and and everybody that cares for your children has been properly immunized," Dr. Hill said.

Some caregivers say they were unaware that even if they already had the vaccine, they may need a booster. One grandmother says Medicare does not cover the shot, so she's trying to figure out how to pay. But she agrees the money would be well spent to keep her grandson healthy.

"No matter what it costs, it would be worth it to keep this little guy protected," Hope Hickam said.

The state of North Carolina is trying to help with some of the financial concerns. You can get the pertussis vaccine booster for free. For more information contact your doctor or county health department.

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