Officials: Take steps to ward off whooping cough

Susan Bojka, manager of the Family Birthing Center at Waterbury Hospital in Waterbury, Conn., prepares the pertussis vaccine. (The Associated Press)

Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 1:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 1:24 p.m.

Even if you skipped the flu vaccine this year, you should still get vaccinated against whooping cough, health officials say, especially with the Centers for Disease Control reporting the highest levels nationwide in five decades of the disease.



—The Tdap vaccine protects against whooping cough, or pertussis, as well as tetanus and diptheria. It’s a one-shot vaccine, but the Td booster is recommended every 10 years for adults.
—You can get the Tdap and influenza vaccine at the same time.
—Tdap vaccination is highly recommended for pregnant women in their third trimester, adults who have direct contact with children, and those over age 65.
—Symptoms of whooping cough include a cough lasting at least two weeks. In children, the cough is more severe: they suck air in, making a “whooping” noise.
—Pertussis is treated with antiobiotics.

Local physicians are following CDC and Florida Department of Health recommendations to target adults in their vaccination efforts. Gerald Keller, a primary care physician at the University of Florida and Shands Family Medicine clinic at Jonesville, said the vaccine, known as Tdap, "is just as important as the flu vaccine. When you get (patients) in your office, it's good to load them up."

That may be new to many adults, who aren't used to getting the Tdap vaccine, which became available in 2005. Tdap also protects against tetanus and diphtheria. The CDC reported that in 2010, only 8 percent of adults had been vaccinated against whooping cough, also known as pertussis.

Furthermore, many people mistake pertussis for a cold, said Keller, since the main symptom is a cough that persists for at least two weeks. And adults can actually shrug off pertussis rather quickly, much as they would a cold. The real risk, however, is that they may infect small children, or even worse, infants, who don't have immunity against the disease. The cough is much worse in children — and the whooping sound kids make is what gave rise to the "whooping cough" name.

Of the 514 cases reported so far this year in Florida, 27 percent are in children under age 1, said Charles Alexander, the administrator of the immunization program at the Florida Department of Health. According to Keller, "The problem is now that adults are the reservoir and they're giving it to kids and babies, who can die from it."

"We're also very concerned about grandparents. They don't really have a problem with pertussis," Alexander said. "But then they visit their grandkids and with the kissing and hugging you have transmission."

Last February, the CDC updated its vaccination recommendation to include all adults age 65 and older. In July, it emphasized the importance of vaccinating pregnant women, preferably during the third trimester, and the siblings of babies.

"Maternal antibodies are good for 6-9 months. It will protect the child during the first year of life, until they can complete the vaccine," Alexander said.

Florida has notified physicians throughout the state of the CDC recommendations. "We have promoted the ideal that the vaccine is the best and most effective way to protect against pertussis," said Alexander, adding that in Florida, all seventh graders must have a Tdap vaccination to attend school. Alexander said compliance has been good throughout the state.

In Alachua County, vaccination efforts have also been successful, said Isabel Anasco, an epidemiologist at the Alachua County Health Department. Anasco said there have only been four cases of pertussis this year — three children and their father who were visiting this summer from out of state.

Kristine Crane is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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