Pertussis is on the rise; are you prepared?

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Pertussis, commonly referred to as whooping cough, is an extremely contagious disease that is very serious in children less than one year of age. Bacterium is found in the nose and throat of infected persons and spreads through the air by a cough or sneeze. It can cause inflammation of the brain, lung infections, seizures and even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most deaths occur in infants less than three months of age.

Pertussis is on the rise both nationally and locally. In 2010, there were 27,550 cases reported in the United States in 2010. Of those, 384 cases were reported in Virginia, which was three times the number reported in 2007. Although it commonly occurs in young children who have not been vaccinated, no age is exempt.

Symptoms occur in three stages:

  • Stage 1 seems like a cold with a runny nose, sneezing, mild fever and cough over one to two weeks.
  • Stage 2 includes uncontrollable coughing followed by a whooping noise when the person breathes. Vomiting may occur and lips may turn blue from a lack of oxygen. This stage may last four to six weeks.
  • In stage 3, symptoms improve.

From the point of exposure, symptoms usually appear within 4-21 days. Antibiotic therapy will help lessen the disease if given in the early stage; however, infants may require hospitalization.

The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated. Young children need five shots – four shots by 18 months of age and a booster before starting kindergarten. Adolescents and adults should receive a one-time dose of the Tdap booster. The Advisory Council on Immunization Practices and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that pregnant women receive the vaccine after reaching 20 weeks of gestation or postpartum. Passage of the antibodies during pregnancy or via breast milk is another way to prevent this disease in babies. Protection from the vaccine typically decreases 5 to 10 years after receiving the vaccination.

Don’t risk spreading pertussis to your infant. It is recommended that you create a “circle of protection.” Since 80 percent of cases in children are from exposure to adults, all adolescents and adults exposed to the infant should be vaccinated.

Dr. Jordan is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with JORDAN & ASSOCIATES OB/GYN, an affiliate of Chesapeake Regional Medical Center. If you are interested in obtaining this vaccine or would like more information, call 757-436-2424.

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