Gail Kuwahara: Be Responsible To Yourself And Others, And Vaccinate – September 24, 2012

Monday, September 24, 2012

As the school year begins and students are returning to classes, the question many parents are asking is, what vaccines does my child need? In the past few years these requirements have changed. It is not just kindergarten students who need shots, but also students entering seventh grade and college students.

With the passage of Assembly Bill AB354, all children entering seventh to 12th grade are required to receive a Tdap booster in 2011,. In 2012, all children entering seventh grade are now required to get a Tdap booster (and older students if they missed last year). Tdap is the only immunization available in the United States that protects individuals over the age of 10 against pertussis.

Pertussis, more commonly known as Whooping Cough is a serious disease that can be fatal to infants. This year alone there have been 1,154 hospitalizations in the state of California, three-quarters being infants younger than six months of age. Thirteen deaths attributable to pertussis occurred in 2011, most were in infants not old enough to receive the vaccine.

It is important that anyone who is anticipating contact with an infant under the age of six months be vaccinated for this disease to protect the infant from exposure. In teenagers and adults the illness can include a long convalescence and loss of time from school or work.

It is estimated that one case of undiagnosed pertussis can infect up to 17 other people and that 80 percent of all households will be affected by this disease unless family members get vaccinated.

While August and September are the peak season for outbreaks of Whooping Cough in our area, according to Humboldt County there have not been any reported cases in the county so far this year. Pertussis is a viral illness which starts with cold symptoms, mild cough, runny nose and fever which can last up to two weeks. The infected person is most contagious during this time.

The illness progresses to a severe prolonged cough with the classic whooping sound at the end for which it is named; this stage can last up to three months. It is possible that we can attribute the fact that we have not had any reported cases this year to the efforts of the county health department and our local medical providers to get our population vaccinated last year.

Students starting college this year should also receive a Meningitis vaccination. For many of these young adults it is their first time in a group living situation. Residence hall living some newfound freedoms, like kissing, not getting enough sleep, being exposed to smoke, sharing utensils, glasses and water bottles and being in crowed situations for prolonged periods of time put students at risk of contracting this serious illness.

Meningitis is a devastating viral illness that can progress from no symptoms at all to death or disability in just a single day. Meningitis can present with swelling of the brain or spinal cord or as a blood infection. It is difficult to recognize in the early stages because symptoms are very similar to other viral illnesses. About 10 percent of all Americans who get this disease will die from it, while 20 percent who survive the illness are left with serious medical problems including amputation of arms, legs, fingers and toes, brain damage, deafness or kidney damage.

All students should get an influenza vaccine to protect them from this common illness. The CDC has recommended early vaccination this year and it should be available in most medical offices, pharmacies and the health department now. Influenza (the flu as it is more commonly called) can cause mild to severe illness and is easily prevented by vaccination.

Signs and symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue. It is spread by droplets so always cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing to prevent spreading the disease to others.

Parents please remember this is an exciting time for your child whether they are one of the “big kids now” entering middle school or a young adult heading off to college and getting their first big taste of independence. It is important to keep them safe from illness. Vaccinations are the best defense.

Finally, this is a time of changes for your child and getting established with a local medical provider will give them an opportunity seek needed treatment and discuss physical, emotional and social concerns. A medical provider can be more than someone to visit when you are sick. They can help your child make appropriate health and life style decisions that your child may not feel comfortable talking to teachers or parents about.

Establishing a relationship with a medical provider can assure that your child will continue to make healthy decisions long into the future.

Gail Kuwahara is a mother of four, grandmother of six and has worked at Open Door for 13 years.

Tags: , , ,