Gail Kuwahara: Pertussis Is Here, Potentially Fatal And Preventable – September 20, 2011
Whooping cough is a serious disease which can be fatal to infants and young children.
It starts with cold-like symptoms, mild cough, runny nose, and mild fever which last one to two weeks; this is also the infectious stage of the disease. By the time that the severe cough starts and whooping cough is suspected, the sick person may have infected dozens of people through casual contact.
In 2010, Humboldt County had 53 cases of pertussis, and the county has seen 11 cases so far this year. With the peak months of the disease being August and September, we could be in for many more cases this year.
The best prevention is vaccination – for you and your family. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all children 11 through 18 years old receive one Tdap immunization in place of a Td booster regardless of the interval since the child’s last tetanus shot. It also recommends a Tdap vaccination for any child age seven to 10 who has not completed their initial childhood series of five Dtap vaccinations.
In adults age 19 and over the ACIP is recommending a Tdap shot especially if there is an expectation of contact with a young child or infant.
Tdap is the only vaccine that protects against whooping cough, also known as pertussis; plain pertussis vaccine is not available in the United States.
Most parents have been notified by the schools of the passage of Assembly Bill AB354 which went into effect on July 1, 2011.
This law requires all students entering 7th to 12th grade to show proof of a Tdap immunization prior to entering school for the 2011-2012 school year. It also makes it a standard requirement for all students entering 7th grade in the future.
Following the passage of this bill, another bill was introduced and passed – SB614 – to address the concerns of school and healthcare providers regarding the increased demand for this vaccine. SB614 provides for a 30-day grace period from the first day of school to either show proof of Tdap vaccination or get their child immunized before they are subject to exclusion from school.
There are several other vaccines that are also recommended for children in this age range, including boosters for Varicella (chickenpox) and meningitis. The HPV vaccine is now recommended for both boys and girls in this age group.
The last vaccine recommendation for this age group is the flu shot or influenza vaccine. Often people report becoming ill after receiving this shot and refuse it. The influenza vaccine will not protect you from influenza for about two weeks after you get this shot; that is the amount of time it takes for your body to develop the antibodies to influenza. It also will not protect you from other flu-like viral infections.
Most likely people who report getting the flu from the flu shot were either already exposed, or came down with another viral illness that closely resembled the flu. So your best protection against this often serious disease is to get a flu shot early in the season. It is available at most clinics and pharmacies now.
Beyond needing vaccinations to prevent physical illness, the early teen years are a time of many social changes for these children; they are entering middle or high school with the accompanying social issues that today’s teenagers face.
Most of these children have not had a regular check-up or preventive health care exam in six to 10 years.
This is a good time for such a visit. Scheduling an appointment for your child with a pediatrician or family practice provider will establish your child in a medical home. It will give your child access to a provider who is able to discuss medical and social concerns in a safe environment. Our children need the opportunity to ask questions and get medically accurate answers about things they may not feel comfortable talking to parents or teachers about.
Issues surrounding physical changes, peer pressure, smoking, sex and substance abuse can sometimes be difficult for a child to discuss with a parent. A medical provider can be a source of objective information. They can help direct you and your child to other support systems that can help everyone make informed decisions.
Scheduling time with a provider to get these vaccines up to date is a good start and a good idea. Finding a provider that you and your child like and trust is important to establishing and maintaining good health habits that will protect you and your entire family now and in the future.
Gail Kuwahara has been employed by Open Door Community Health Centers for 12 years; she is a grandmother of six and enjoys spending time with her family, gardening and golfing.