Be smart about pertussis prevention
Ryan Summerlin November 4, 2012
It’s clear that Summit County takes its health seriously. Despite the pertussis epidemic sweeping through other parts of the state, there has yet to be even one case reported in Summit County.
However, don’t start celebrating yet.
“Just because we don’t necessarily have a confirmed case doesn’t mean we’re not having it here in our community,” said Amy Wineland, assistant director of public health in Summit County.
Though the relatively small population numbers may have spared the county so far, all that will change with the upcoming ski season. An influx of national and global travelers will greatly increase the chance of contagious diseases such as pertussis coming into the High Country.
It’s also possible that some people have contracted pertussis already, but haven’t reported it yet, possibly because they don’t recognize it for what it is.
The disease, which commonly peaks every three to five years, is recently at its highest numbers since 2005. The total number of cases statewide is more than 1,100, and expected to rise over the next few months.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, affects all ages, from infants to adults. One of the symptoms is a persistent cough that lasts for weeks. The disease has been known as the ‘100 day cough.’ As it gets more severe, the cough forces all the air out of the sick person’s lungs, causing them to draw in a big breath, often creating a ‘whooping’ sound, for which the disease is named.
The cough is not the only symptom, nor is it necessarily always present. According to Wineland, for the first seven to 10 days after exposure, a person will show the signs of a mild cold – runny nose and a low-grade fever. Within two weeks the symptoms become more severe, including coughing fits that are usually worse at night.
Infants are highly susceptible to the disease, which can turn deadly if not properly treated. They do not always exhibit the cough. The most common symptom for babies is apnea, which is when they struggle to breathe, or stop altogether. More than 50 percent of infants under the age of 1 with pertussis end up hospitalized.
“If you have an infant that’s showing these symptoms, you need to see a health care provider right away,” Wineland said.
The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. Adults, teens and children over the age of five can get a TDaP shot, which combines vaccination for tetanus, diptheria and pertussis. Infants are commonly given a similar version of the vaccine called DTaP at ages 2, 4, 6, and 12 months.
Already had a vaccination? That doesn’t necessarily give you a free pass, says Wineland.
The makeup of the pertussis vaccine changed in the 1990s, in an attempt to reduce mild side effects associated with the previous version. Today, medical professionals are finding that the latest version of the vaccine wears out its effectiveness over time. This means that regular vaccine updates are needed in order to ensure pertussis immunization.
Wineland recommends that community members review their immunization records, and come in for a booster if necessary. For those unsure if they need a vaccination, the public health office will review their records for them.
“In addition to making sure that you have your immunizations, it’s really important to practice good cough etiquette, and to stay home if you’re sick,” Wineland said.
Pertussis is a highly contagious disease, and transmitted through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. One sick person can infect up to 12 or 15 others. The proper way to cough, Wineland explains, is to put your mouth against the inside of your elbow. Coughing into your hands provides a risk of infecting touched surfaces afterward.
Infected people are the most contagious for the first three weeks of the disease. Hand washing will also minimize the risk of passing or catching pertussis.
To those workaholics out there, if you are sick, stay home, Wineland urges. Those taking antibiotics should stay home for the entire treatment cycle. For anyone feeling the need to tough it out without medicine, a minimum of 21 days at home is advised.
Though Wineland recommends everyone check their immunization records and consider getting vaccinated, there are a few groups in the community who should take extra care.
“There are certain members of our community that we’re really trying to make sure have that immunization, and those include pregnant women should have the vaccine in their third trimester so they can pass on those antibodies to their newborn,” Wineland said, adding, “Any parents or grandparents, childcare providers, health care professionals, anybody who is around young children we really recommend get vaccinated.”
There are various resources throughout the community where people can receive the TDaP vaccine. The public health offices offer the shot for $15, as well as the flu shot, also $15. The pharmacies at Safeway, City Market and Walgreens also carry the TDaP vaccine. Anyone unsure of where to get the vaccine should contact their health care provider.