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 Annual 2011

Annual 2011


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Whooping Cough on The Rise

Experts Stress Importance of Vaccinations

      Whooping cough, once thought to be a disease of the past, is making a comeback in the East Bay and beyond.
     This fall, more than 6,000 cases of whooping cough had been reported in California. The California Department of Public Health declared the disease an epidemic and reported that whooping cough, or pertussis, a highly contagious upper respiratory illness, hadn’t affected that many people in the state since 1955 when 4,949 cases were reported for the entire year.
     Whooping cough can begin with symptoms similar to that of a common cold including a mild fever, cough, congestion and sneezing, but after a week or two, the symptoms get worse. Some, but not all, patients develop the disease’s cough that causes a high-pitched “whoop” sound, but others have a persistent hacking cough. There is no definitive way to determine whether a patient has pertussis or a bad cold without a doctor visit and a lab test.
     Doctors say the rise in cases may be due to the fact that significant numbers of parents stopped immunizing their children out of concern over the safety of the pertussis vaccine. The state’s Department of Public Health reported that in Alameda County, 1.29 percent of kindergartners weren’t fully immunized during the
2009–10 school year because of their parents’ personal beliefs.
     “Some parents worry that vaccinations could cause serious medical problems such as autism and asthma, yet researchers have found no evidence of a link between childhood vaccinations and these conditions,” says Laurie Bouck, a San Francisco–based medical writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vaccinations; her co-writer is Dr. Michael Joseph Smith, a pediatrician and vaccine researcher from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky. “Many parents worried about the amount of thimerosol (a mercury-based preservative) found in vaccines, but since 2001, childhood vaccines either do not carry thimerosol or contain only trace amounts of it.”
      “Vaccinations help prevent diseases,” says Dr. Ann Petru of the infectious disease department at Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland. “All infants and children should get the DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis) and children ages 11 and older should get a Tdap booster (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis). Adults should get a pertussis booster vaccination every 10 years.”
      Babies are especially hit hard by whooping cough. According to data released in September by the state public health department, of 196 patients hospitalized with whooping cough in California, 74 percent were infants under 6 months old and 57 percent were under 3 months old. In 2010, nine infants under the age of 3 months died of whooping cough complications in California.
      Since adults typically spread whooping cough to infants, public health officials have encouraged any adult who will be in contact with an infant (especially pregnant women), to get vaccinated. Infants do not begin receiving vaccinations until they are 2 months old, so they are especially susceptible to the disease.
      As with other viral infections, Petru stresses that frequent hand washing is critical with children to prevent the spread of whooping cough and that children who have whooping cough should not be sent to school.
      “The contagious period for whooping cough lasts as long as a person has symptoms,” Petru says. “It’s very easy for people to spread the illness through coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria.”

Symptoms of Whooping Cough

■    Whooping Cough has an incubation period of three to 12 days. Symptoms are mild at first and resemble a common cold. They include: a runny nose; nasal congestion; sneezing; red, watery eyes; a mild fever; a dry, hacking cough.
■    After a week or two, symptoms worsen and include: severe and prolonged coughing attacks; coughing up thick phlegm; coughing heavy enough to provoke vomiting and resulting in a red or blue face; extreme fatigue. In children, there’s often a high-pitched “whoop” during the next breath of air.
    Source: www.MayoClinic.com.


■    The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vaccinations by Dr. Michael Joseph Smith and Laurie Bouck (Alpha, 2009) includes information on how vaccines work, which ones are required and recommended and the risks of not vaccinating.

■    The Alameda Public Health Department provides free and low-cost vaccination clinics to residents of Alameda County. For information on upcoming flu and pertussis vaccinations, visit www.acphd.org and click on “Pertussis Outbreak.”


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