November 14, 2012 | Vol. 24 Edition 46

Whooping cough case confirmed in Valdez

Doctors urge boosters for adults, full course shots for babies, kids

Valdez has at least one confirmed case of pertussis – commonly called whooping cough – and medical professionals are urging parents to immunize their children and to get booster shots for themselves.

Even those who have had the immunization should get a booster.
Valdez Star File Photo

“We have at least one positive case in town,” Dr. Sarah Spencer said in an interview Monday. “Be aware that it’s going around.”

Medical care providers in Valdez – as well as those across Alaska and the rest of the country - are urging parents to immunize their children, especially babies beginning at two-months of age, and to get adult booster shots for themselves and older children.

“Teenagers, adults can get infected,” she said, despite the fact most were immunized as children as the vaccine’s effectiveness diminishes over time.

“Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breathes which result in a "whooping" sound,” the Center for Disease Control said on its website. “Pertussis most commonly affects infants and young children and can be fatal, especially in babies less than 1 year of age.”

This is why medical professionals like Spencer are urging not only that babies be vaccinated , but that teenagers and adults get booster shots as well.

“They can pass it on to a baby that isn’t immunized yet,” she said. “A baby can die from it.”

Immunizations for whooping cough, known as the Tdap, has been readily available for decades. However, a decline in immunizations against common childhood diseases in the US has seen an alarming rise in several communicable diseases, especially pertussis.

The vaccine and booster shot are readily available at the Valdez Medical Clinic and at the Public Health Office.

“In 2010, 27,550 cases of pertussis were reported in the U.S., but many more go undiagnosed and unreported,” the CDC website said. “This is the most number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1959 when 40,000 cases were reported. In 2011, 18,719 cases were reported.”

Spencer said 65 percent of infants that are sickened by pertussis require hospitalization and a number of those cases result in death. And while the disease is most dangerous to infants, whooping cough is no walk in the park for older children or adult victims.

“When it first starts it seems like a regular old cold,” Spencer said. “In China it’s called the 100 day cough because it goes on and on and on.”

While the cough persists it causes what doctors call slight discomfort; most patients refer to it as pain and misery.

“It’s difficult to treat,” Spender said. Even with modern medicine, the best doctors can do is make an infected person less contagious but can do little to ease the suffering caused by the symptoms.

She recommended anyone that has questions to call the clinic or public health nurse. Spencer also recommended two online sources, the CDCs pertussis homepage and www.soundsofpertussis.com.

“We have some vaccines here,” Spencer said, urging adults, even pregnant women in their second and third trimesters, to get booster shots.

“The biggest thing is children under six months,” of age she said. “People should make sure their babies have the vaccine too.”

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