Back-to-school is a time for new clothes, shoes, backpacks and other supplies, but it is also a time for immunizations.
This year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local health care providers are urging parents, as well as children, to make sure they are vaccinated for “whooping cough.”
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a rapidly spreading, potentially fatal, airborne disease that adults most often spread to children. The CDC says the U.S. could see the worst outbreak of “whooping cough” in 50 years. This year alone, nearly 18,000 cases of “Whooping Cough” have been reported in the U.S. and nine children have died.
“Our real concern is that 95 percent of toddlers are vaccinated for whooping cough while only eight percent of adults have received the vaccination. Many adults don’t even realize they’re common carriers of this disease and that they should be vaccinated,” said Dr. Burger, medical director of Doctors Express.
“The start of the school year is an ideal time to get vaccinated.”
Dr. Paul Hletko with Georgetown Pediatric Center in Georgetown agrees that adults should get vaccinated, just to be safe.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents receive the whooping cough vaccine,” Hletko said. “There is nothing wrong with giving it to any adults.”
The vaccine is required for students by the Georgetown County School District.
He said most serious problems and deaths from pertussis occur in children under 6 months old, but the disease can cause health problems for children older than that.
“Children under 6 months old can have permanent damage, including swelling of the brain, which can lead to motor difficulties, mental retardation or death,” Hletko said.
He added that outbreaks of whooping cough seem to happen every seven or eight years.
Since there was a major outbreak in Georgetown County seven or eight years ago, he said, we may be due for one.
That year, he saw 76 cases in his office, he said. Last year, he saw about 20 cases.
“It comes in waves,” Hletko said. “Medical experts are hoping that higher rates of vaccinations make the next outbreak less severe and cases less common.”
He urges parents to stay up to date with their children’s immunizations and turn a deaf ear to random information they may find on the Internet.
“People need to get information from credible sources and listen to doctors, infectious disease experts, Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization,” Hletko said.
Whooping Cough facts
- Early symptoms are those of a common cold – runny nose, fever and cough. But that cough eventually turns into extreme coughing spells, leaving the victim gasping for air and making a “whoop” sound.
- The highest rates of infection are in babies less than 12 months old.
- Coughing fits due to pertussis infection can last for up to 10 weeks or more.
- Since the 1980s, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of pertussis in the United States. In 2010, there was an increase in cases among 7 – 10 year olds. Recently, health officials have seen an unusually high number of cases among 13 and 14 year olds.
- More than half of infants less than 1 year of age who get pertussis are hospitalized.
- Unvaccinated children are eight times more likely to be infected.
- Pertussis is generally treated with antibiotics and early treatment is very important.
- The vaccine is not 100 percent effective but the CDC states this is the best form of protection against the disease.
CDC’s recommended whooping cough vaccination schedule for children
- Children should get a vaccination at 2, 4 and 6 months old (3 shots by the time they’re 6 months old).
- Another vaccination when they’re 15-18 months old
- Another when they’re 4-6 years old
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases
Doctors Express contributed to this article.
By Clayton Stairs
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