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Colo. whooping cough cases pass 1,000

Colorado’s whooping cough epidemic has now triggered 1,090 cases of the highly contagious disease, making 2012 the worst year for the disease since 2005 when the state recorded 1,383 cases.

Other states that have declared epidemics are Washington and Wisconsin. In 2010, 10 babies died in California from an outbreak there.

So far, no one has died from the illness this year in Colorado, but Dr. Rachel Herlihy of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said there have been several close calls with infants who often get the most severe cases of the disease.

“We’ve had a large number of cases with infants and some close calls with infants who have had to be on respirators,” said Herlihy, director of the state health department’s immunization section.

Herlihy urged parents and people who work around children to get vaccinated and to make sure both young children and adolescents are up to date on their immunizations for the disease, which is also called pertussis.

Colorado cases of whooping cough by county

  • Broomfield, 32 cases; highest rate in state with 56 per 100,000
  • Boulder, 130 cases; second highest rate in the state: 43 per 100,000
  • Adams, 155 cases; rate: 34 per 100,000
  • Jefferson, 164; rate: 30 per 100,000
  • Denver, 174 cases; rate: 28 per 100,000
  • Douglas, 71 cases; rate 24 per 100,000
  • Arapahoe, 132 cases; rate 23 per 100,000

Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“It’s especially important for those who have contact with young children who are more vulnerable to whooping cough. Child care workers, health care workers, parents, grandparents and siblings of young children should all make sure they are up to date on their whooping cough vaccinations,” Herlihy said.

All adults should receive the whooping cough booster vaccine, which is called Tdap, but few have received it, or even know they should get it, Herlihy said. There is no lifetime protection against whooping cough. People can get it more than once and the vaccine wanes over time.

Some families in Colorado choose not to vaccinate their babies. Boulder and Broomfield counties have the highest rates of pertussis right now and Boulder is frequently cited as one of the national hotspots for people who refuse vaccines.

While some unvaccinated children are spreading the disease, it also seems to be striking some older children whose vaccinations may be wearing off early.

Herlihy said infected children also may be returning to day care or school too soon and also could be continuing to spread whooping cough.

“You are supposed to isolate yourself for a full five days of antibiotics. Unfortunately, we’re seeing kids who are going back to school too soon and they are continuing to spread the infection,” Herlihy said.

The telltale sign of the disease is a persistent cough that won’t go away. Herlihy said that in China, the disease is called the “100-day illness.” Anyone who has a family member who is experiencing a long-lasting illness with a cough should call or visit a doctor.

Infants under six months are too young to have received all the vaccine doses necessary to protect them from pertussis. So it’s critical for people who live and work around them to be immunized.

The Tdap vaccine is recommended for the following groups:

  • Pregnant women in the third or late-second trimester
  • Parents of infants under 12 months of age.
  • Caregivers of infants, including grandparents, babysitters and child care workers.
  • Health care workers
  • Others who plan on having close contact with an infant
  • All adults need a tetanus booster if they have previously not received Tdap

Pertussis is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract that can easily spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The illness often starts with cold-like symptoms, including sneezing, a runny nose and a mild cough. Often there is no fever or just a low-grade fever. The cough becomes more severe during the first week or two and people who are ill can have coughing fits, followed by a high-pitched “whoop” or a coughing fit so severe that the person vomits. The cough may last for a couple of months and is more frequent at night.

Since symptoms in adults and adolescents can be relatively mild, individuals may not realize they have pertussis and can easily spread it to others. Young infants with pertussis often do not have a cough but gasp or struggle to breathe.

Symptoms of whooping cough or pertussis

  • Causes coughing spells so bad that it is hard for infants to eat, drink or breathe. These coughing spells can last for weeks. It can lead to pneumonia, seizures (jerking and staring spells), brain damage and death. It is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes and spreads germs.

Who needs to be vaccinated?

  • Children should get 5 doses of DTaP vaccine, one dose at each of the following ages: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, 4-6 years, 11-12 years
  • Anyone who comes in contact with your baby – parents, grandparents, caregivers, siblings, plus extended family and friends – should receive the adult booster (Tdap) to help shield newborns from whooping cough.
  • In January 2011, the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices updated the Tdap vaccine recommendations to also include certain adults 65 years of age and older and under-vaccinated children aged 7 – 10 years.

Sources: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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