News Column

Whooping Cough on the Increase

September 4, 2013

The Texas Department of State Health Services is urging people to be vaccinated again pertussis, saying number of reported infections this year is on track to reach the highest level since the 1950s

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a bacterial infection that starts with cold-like symptoms and a mild cough, DSHS officials said in a press release. A severe cough can begin a week or two later, and coughing fits may be followed by vomiting or a "whooping" sound.

In Texas there have been 1,935 reported pertussis cases this year, and DSHS officials said the state could have its largest number of cases in recent years. Officials said there has been 48 pertussis cases in Cameron County, 131 in Hidalgo County, and one in Willacy County this year.

"We have had more than 1,900 (reported pertussis cases in Texas)," Chris Van Deusen, DSHS spokesman, said.

"The recent peak that we have seen was in 2009 when we had over 3,300 cases. If we continue to get cases diagnosed and reported to us at this rate... we may surpass that 2009 peak which was the highest since the 1950s," Van Deusen said.

Pertussis spreads through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes, officials said, and patients are most contagious while they have cold-like symptoms during the first two weeks after coughing begins.

Because of this officials said it is important for all members of the family to be vaccinated, not just young children, to prevent the spread of the infection to newborns or others. They said that infection tends to have a mild effect on teenagers and adults, but because of the risk of apnea, a pause in breathing, it could be fatal to babies.

"We have seen two deaths in Texas this year that were related to pertussis, both of those were in newborns too young to have been vaccinated," Van Deusen said. "That's why it's important for parents, older siblings, or anybody that's going to be around a newborn to make sure that they are up to date, because while it likely wont have a serious impact on the older children or the adults, it certainly could on a baby."

To protect babies too young for the vaccine, the DSHS recommends that pregnant women receive a pertussis vaccine dose between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. This both protects the mother and prevents her from passing pertussis to the baby, and provides some protection for the child before he or she is old enough to receive the vaccination series at 2 months of age.

"Immunization is the best way to protect yourself," Van Deusen said. "But if you do have a child that has a cough, you know it doesn't mean it's pertussis necessarily, but if it persists for a while, if they have sort of a cold that then develops into a long lasting cough we would certainly recommend checking in with the doctor. The earlier you catch it, the better for everybody."

Officials said the new vaccine for pertussis, the Tdap vaccine, may not provide immunity for as long as previous iterations, but it is used because it offers fewer side effects.

"There has been some research that suggests that (the increase in cases) may be related to the relatively new type of the vaccine that may not protect for quite as long," Van Deusen said. "The protection is very good in the couple of years after children get the complete dose or have a booster, but that the immunity wanes a little more quickly than the old type of vaccine which caused more side effects."

Officials said there are people who have been vaccinated may still contract the infection, but it would still provide protection against a more serious illness.

"It's important with what we are seeing with the waning immunity, for people who get the immunization when it's recommended so that they don't that great a lapse in immunity."

jmendoza@valleystar.com

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(c)2013 Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas)

Visit Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas) at www.valleymorningstar.com

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Source: Copyright Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, TX) 2013


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