Hillsborough County has seen an average of 66 pertussis, or whooping cough cases over the past three years, according to health department data.

Dtap vaccine/Amanda Mills-CDC
Dtap vaccine/Amanda Mills-CDC

However, during the first two months of 2016, county officials have seen a significant rise in cases compared to the same period in 2015.

The Hillsborough County Health Department (HCHD) has reported 20 cases through Feb. 2016, this contrasts to just one case during the same time frame last year.

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a highly contagious bacterial infection. Whooping cough spreads easily by coughing and sneezing and mainly affects the respiratory system (the organs that help you breathe).

Whooping cough is very serious, especially for babies and young kids. Whooping cough can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death. Babies younger than one year of age who get whooping cough may be hospitalized or even die.

Whooping cough is generally treated with antibiotics. It’s important to start treatment as soon as possible to help keep from spreading the disease to others. Early treatment can also make the symptoms end sooner and be less severe.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to lower the risk of getting whooping cough. It’s important to wash your hands, cover your cough, and stay home whenever you’re sick.

Whooping cough rates have been rising steadily over the last 20 years nationally.