Health department urges immunizations to fight whooping cough epidemic

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DENVER -- The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is now reporting 763 cases of whooping cough in Colorado. From 2007-2011, the average number of cases was only 158 in the same time period.

FOX31 Denver spoke with a mother whose daughter caught the bacterial infection. “She would cough so hard she would almost vomit,” said Missy Wiggs.

Her daughter, Shelby, got sick August 1. Her fever went away soon after, but the cough persisted.

“[Doctors] said it was a sinus infection, but someone at school said whooping cough was going around,” Wiggs said. “I asked them to swab her and they said just for peace of mind they would swab her. Six days later they came back and said it was whooping cough.”

Doctors with the state health department aren’t altogether surprised.

“Every few years we do see more cases of pertussis than we do see in other years, and that cycle is typically 3-5 years,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy. “The last time that we had a substantial number of cases was in 2005.”

Vaccines are considered the first and only line of defense. But they may not be 100% effective.

“The vaccine that’s used now, the DTaP vaccine, is not the same as the vaccine that was being used a decade or more ago,” Herlihy said. “And there are some concerns about the long term efficacy of that vaccine.”

Booster shots can fix that. Both of Wiggs’ kids are vaccinated and she doesn’t know where Shelby picked up pertussis. But she knows how hard it’s been on her and everyone around them.

“We were just at a mountain sleepover with eight little girls, all of them were exposed to it,” she said. “All the kids at school for the last 15 days [were exposed]. I feel like I’m on the phone all day telling people, ‘I’m sorry I infected you’.”

The entire family is now on preventative antibiotics. Wiggs wishes her daughter had been diagnosed earlier.

“Who knew? It was a bad cough, but everybody kept saying it was something else and not the whooping cough,” she said.

Infants are most at risk for serious infection or death. The health department strongly encourages parents and anyone who deals with infants to receive the adult vaccine, the Tdap.

Symptoms, resources and additional whooping cough information

Whooping cough is most common among infants under 6 months of age, followed by infants 6 to 11 months old, and children 11-14 years.

Though the increase is widespread, the largest numbers of cases have been reported from Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Denver and Jefferson counties. There have been no reported deaths due to pertussis in 2012.

Pertussis immunizations are recommended for all children and adults, but it is particularly important for people who have contact with infants to be up to date on their immunizations.

The health department says the vaccine should be received at least two weeks before beginning contact with an infant. Parents should make sure their children are up to date on their vaccines, including pertussis.

Additionally, the pertussis vaccine, Tdap, 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 who need a tetanus booster, if they previously have not received Tdap

Whooping cough is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract that can easily spread though 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 only a low-grade fever.

The cough becomes more severe during the first week or two and often is characterized by episodes of 'coughing fits,' followed by a high-pitched whoop or a coughing fit followed by vomiting. The cough may last for a couple of months and is more frequent at night.

Resources:
More information on pertussis
More information on immunizations

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