Confirmed cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in New Mexico are three to four times higher than previous years, according to Chad Smelser, medical epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health.
Smelser said he did not know the exact numbers of whooping cough cases in New Mexico in 2011, but numbers have drastically increased in 2012.
"There have been outbreaks in various states around the country since January," Smelser said.
Smelser said there have been 254 cases of whooping cough statewide since January, with one resulting in an infant's death.
He said the reason for the increase in number of outbreaks is unknown but the condition can only be passed from person to person.
"The only known reservoir is humans, so individual people pass it through droplets from a cough or from sneezing," Smelser said.
Smelser said Curry and Roosevelt counties have not yet had any cases of whooping cough, but residents should be taking precautions anyway since the condition exists in nearby counties, such as Chaves.
"The best way to be protected is to be up-to-date on vaccinations," Smelser said. "Adults who come into contact with infants should especially be up-to-date."
Smelser said infants have more severe cases of the condition due to not having the lung capacity to handle the condition and not having a fully developed immune system.
"Infants are more likely to be hospitalized and to pass away," Smelser said. "The other high risk category are pregnant women. We suggest that pregnant women consult with their prenatal provider about being vaccinated during their pregnancy and get the people who are going to care for the infant once it is born vaccinated as well."
Smelser said another precaution area residents should take is washing their hands regularly, especially after being exposed to other people's saliva or people who are ill.
"If you have a prolonged cough and are worried about whooping cough, you should see your medical provider about your symptoms," Smelser said.
Tersa Bonifant, registered nurse responsible for infection control, said there have been no confirmed cases of whooping cough in Roosevelt County.
"I think there's always a concern when you have a major national outbreak; however, since we haven't seen confirmed cases at our facility, we want to encourage people to take precautions to reduce the risk of cases in Roosevelt County," Bonifant said.
Bonifant said adults and children should remain up-to-date on vaccinations and take precautions if visiting an area with cases of whooping cough.