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Whooping cough on the rise
Vaccines encouraged for children and adults
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Whooping cough — a disease thought by many to have been eradicated — is on the rise.

Coastal Health District officials recommend children, teens and adults get immunized for whooping cough, or pertussis, to protect those most at risk from the disease. Infants younger than 12 months are too young to be fully immunized for petussis and can develop serious complications and die from the illness, said Dr. Diane Weems, Coastal Health District/Chatham County Health Department chief medical officer.

"There were five cases of pertussis in the eight-county Coastal Health District in 2010," Weems said.

Liberty County Health Department Administrator Deidre Howell said a Tattnall County child died from pertussis last year and a Fort Stewart child had it.

"In 2010, there were (preliminarily) 174 confirmed cases and 69 probable cases," Weems said.

She said there were 158 confirmed cases of pertussis and 71 probable cases in Georgia in 2009.

"So far, we already have one case in 2011," Weems said.

The Coastal Health District serves Liberty, Long, Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, and McIntosh counties.

"The fact of it is we continue to have cases of pertussis which is a vaccine-preventable disease," Weems said. "Whooping cough historically was widespread and a significant cause of death prior to 1950."

She said the vaccine has been successful in preventing death, but health officials began to see a resurgence of pertussis in the 1990s.

Weems said the vaccine immunity in adults "wanes over time." Therefore, immunizing (or re-immunizing) the adults will help protect infants, she said.

"And adults may not get very sick," Weems said.

The CDC reports pertussis is usually spread by people coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others who then breath in the pertussis bacteria.

Weems said infants can be infected by parents, grandparents, caregivers or older brothers and sisters who may not know they have whooping cough.

According to the CDC, pertussis symptoms generally develop within seven to 10 days and tend to begin with a runny nose, a mild cough or low-grade fever. After one to two weeks, severe coughing may begin, CDC officials

"In infants, the cough can be minimal or not even there. Infants may have a symptom known as apnea; which is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern," states "Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing, over and over, until the air is gone from the lungs and you are forced to inhale with a loud ‘whooping’ sound. This extreme coughing can cause you to throw up and be very tired. The ‘whoop’ is often not there and the infection is generally milder (less severe) in teens and adults, especially those who have been vaccinated."

"We are really pushing Tdap (tetanus and diphtheria toxoids and acellular pertussis vaccine) as one of our strategies to immunize our adults and therefore protect our children," Weems said.

Children should also be vaccinated, she said.

The risk of developing whooping cough among children vaccinated for pertussis is as low as 1 in 500 but the risk of pertussis in children who are not immunized rose to 1 in 20, Weems added.

Beth Hausauer, immunization coordinator with the Coastal Health District, recommends children ages 0-6 years receive a pertussis vaccine — DtaP (diphtheria and tetanus toxoids and acellular pertussis) — at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months, with boosters at 15-18 months and 4-6 years

Hausauer and Weems said middle-schoolers — 11- and 12-year-olds — should receive Tdap.

"Persons 19 and older should receive one dose of Tdap if they have not ever received Tdap previously," Hausauer said.

The Coastal Health District officials said a dose of the vaccine is particularly important for postpartum women as soon after delivery as possible, caregivers or those in close contact with infants younger than one year, and health-care workers with direct patient contact.

The cost for the Tdap vaccine is $46 if paid without insurances, said Annie Washington, Liberty County Health Department clinical coordinator.

"We can also file, SHBP, Cigna, United Healthcare, Medicare, Medicaid or charge the VFC cost of $14 if the client is 18 years or younger and meets the eligibility criteria," Washington said.

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