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Whooping cough on sharp rise, even among those who are vaccinated

Modified: Friday, Sep 27th, 2013

Reported cases of pertussis have seen a sharp increase nationwide, including here in Wyoming. Statewide, reported cases have jumped from just 13 in 2011 to 59 last year and 64 so far in 2013. (Graphic courtesy Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

EVANSTON — Whooping cough, or pertussis, is on the rise in Wyoming, already exceeding last year’s reported cases and more than quadrupling reported cases from two years ago.

“In 2011 there were 13 reported cases in Wyoming,” Reginal McClinton, WDH Epidemiologist, said. “In 2012 there were 59 and so far this year there have been 64.”

Perhaps more staggering than the raw data is that vaccinations aren’t working – or at least not as well as they used to.

“Since the early 1980s, there has been an overall trend of an increase in reported pertussis cases,” McClinton said. “Pertussis is naturally cyclic in nature, with peaks in disease every three to five years. But for the past 20 to 30 years, we’ve seen the peaks getting higher and overall case counts going up. There are several reasons that help explain why we’re seeing more cases as of late. These include: Increased awareness, improved diagnostic tests, better reporting, more circulation of the bacteria, and waning immunity.

McClinton said the medical community may be using a vaccine that’s less effective than one used decades ago.

“When it comes to waning immunity, it seems that the acellular pertussis vaccine (DTaP) we use now may not protect for as long as the whole cell vaccine (DTP) we used to use. Throughout the 1990s, the U. S. switched from using DTP to using DTaP for infants and children.”

Although more children are vaccinated than aren’t, many who receive vaccinations are still getting whooping cough.

“In unvaccinated children there were 15 cases,” McClinton said. “Vaccinated children that were not up to date showed five cases. Children that were up to date showed 23 cases, fully vaccinated children showed 10 cases and adults had 11 cases for a total of 64 cases so far this year.”

But health officials still say people fare better if they are vaccinated because even if they do get whooping cough, they can fight it off easier than if they hadn’t received the vaccine.

“The number one thing parents can do to prevent Pertussis is to ensure their children are up to date with vaccinations,” Patricia Arnold, RN, MPH, Nurse Manager at Uinta County Public Health, said. “Parents can check with their healthcare provider or with local public health for more details.

“Pertussis vaccinations are not perfect, but effective. If you’ve been vaccinated and still become ill with Pertussis, you are less likely to have a severe infection. The most severe danger is for babies. More than half of infants less than one year of age who become ill with pertussis must be hospitalized; in some cases it can be deadly. Babies can catch the infection from family members or other caregivers who may not realize they have the disease. Infants should be kept away from individuals who have an illness characterized by coughing,” Arnold said.

“The DTaP adolescent/adult Pertussis booster vaccine is important for those who spend time with new infants,” Arnold said. “If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you should talk to your doctor about a DTaP vaccine. It is also a good idea to make sure all people around babies are vaccinated, including siblings, grandparents, other family members and childcare staff.”

But being around children isn’t the only reason adults should be vaccinated, Arnold said.

“Adults can become ill with Pertussis and may not always realize it,” she said. “Again, Pertussis vaccinations are not perfect, but effective. If you get the vaccine and still get whooping cough, you will have fewer coughing fits, shorter illness, and be less likely to suffer from disease complications. When you or your child develops a cold that includes a prolonged or severe cough, it may be whooping cough. The best way to know is to contact your doctor.”

Arnold said the county is prepared for a whooping cough outbreak.

“Uinta County Public Health has vaccine available during our normal clinic hours,” Arnold said. “We work hand in hand with the Wyoming Department of Health, and also with our local healthcare providers,” she said.

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