“We’re taking this very, very seriously, especially because it affects newborns and children,” said Sutter Delta Medical Center Chief of Staff Dr. Ryan Tracy. “We’re urging everyone – parents, grandparents and children – to get a booster shot even if they think they are up to date on their vaccinations.”
Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a highly contagious bacterial infection identified by cold-like symptoms and often accompanied by a loud, raspy, bark-like cough. Signs can include a runny nose, sneezing, mild cough and low-grade fever, but the symptoms can worsen rapidly and include vomiting, breathing difficulties and extreme fatigue. In infants, the symptoms are slightly different and can include gasping, gagging and even seizures.
Most common in young infants and children, the infection is typically pre-empted by a series of DTaP shots beginning in infants as young as 5 to 6 weeks and followed up with a booster (Tdap) around age 11. For those who do contract the disease, the infection is treated with antibiotics, but because pertussis is on the rise and immunities wear off, health officials are now recommending booster shots for those (up to age 65) who have not received the shot in the last two years and are in contact with infants or are health care providers.
“The current recommendations are that if you are 11 years old or older and it’s been longer than two years since you had a booster, then you should get one,” said Tracy. “For adults, this is something fairly new and we’re just now doing it, but right now, we’re urging everyone to get up to date.”
According to Jacqueline Hanel, executive director for John Muir Outpatient Center in Brentwood, education and information are critical tools in combating the whooping cough epidemic. “The word we want to get out is for people to get immunizations and booster shots,” said Hanel. “What happens when you get it (whooping cough) is that it is so quickly and easily spread that it’s a huge public concern, so we are reaching out to the community to let them know that it’s important to pay attention.”
The season for whooping cough is typically summertime into early fall. As school is back in session, local districts are stepping up to help keep the education community current on signs and symptoms of the disease as well as preventative measures.
“We’ve been sending home information in our student packets since August,” said Jan Steed, director of student services for the Brentwood Union School District. “And we’re continuing to let families know that this is a tough season for whooping cough and that they should check in with their health care advisors and doctors.”
The Oakley Union School District (OUSD) has also taken the proactive approach to combating the spread of the disease. “We have asked our schools to send information home to families and we are also placing it on our Web site,” said OUSD Superintendent Rick Rogers. “However, the most important thing is for parents to take their children to the doctor if they feel something is wrong and do not send them to school if they have any symptoms of an illness of any kind.”
While getting a pertussis shot greatly reduces the likelihood of contracting the disease, no immunization is foolproof. Preventive measures such as thorough hand washing, sneezing into your arm or shoulder and staying home if you develop any symptoms, however, will go a long way toward halting the spread of the virus.
“We are asking parents to be a little more on their guard and to pay a little closer attention to their children,” said Tracy. “The problem is that once you start coughing, you are late into the infection, so parents should go to their doctor or health care provider if they see any unusual signs such as vomiting, heavy coughing or a cold that just doesn’t clear up.
“We’re at a high-risk time right now, so we’re leaning toward treating and sending off a culture for anything that looks suspicious. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this won’t get any worse, but better safe than sorry.”
To find out if you need a pertussis booster, contact your doctor or health care provider. For information on free vaccines in your area, log on to www.getimmunizedca.org. For further updates on whooping cough, go to www.cdc.gov.