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Pertussis in Tacoma

December 14, 2010

Tacoma-Pierce County WA - Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has received confirmation of Whooping Cough in six students in Tacoma Schools and is currently investigating several additional suspect cases. Whooping Cough, known by medical providers as pertussis, is highly contagious and can cause serious illness, especially in young children. Vaccine, for children and adults, is available to help prevent this illness.

While pertussis can be prevented by vaccination, it is highly contagious and one of the most commonly occurring vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States. People infected with the bacteria usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria. Starting with cold-like symptoms, and maybe a mild cough, pertussis is often not suspected or diagnosed until a persistent cough with spasms sets in after one to two weeks of illness.

Students with confirmed cases attend Washington-Hoyt Elementary School; the health department is investigating possible cases in other schools. Parents with children who attend Washington-Hoyt should take their child to a medical provider to be evaluated for pertussis if the child develops cold or cough symptoms.

All parents should contact their health care provider if their child develops a cough that continues for more than two weeks or develops severe fits of coughing that cause shortness of breath or vomiting.

Pertussis can be prevented through vaccination; however people who are fully vaccinated can still get pertussis, but are less likely to have severe illness.

For children, the vaccine, called DTaP, protects against pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus. For maximum protection, children need five DTaP shots, given at age: two months; four months; six months; 12 months (at least six months since the third dose); and, when a child starts school, at 4-6 years old.

Because protection from the pertussis vaccine starts to wear off after five to ten years, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a booster for adolescents and adults. This preventative vaccine has only been available since 2005. The vaccine booster, called Tdap, should be given to youth, at age 11 or 12 years. Adults who did not receive Tdap as a pre-teen or teenager should get a dose of Tdap. Pregnant women not previously vaccinated with Tdap should receive a dose of Tdap before leaving the hospital or birthing center after giving birth.

Adolescents and all adults who live or work with infants or are trying to become pregnant should receive a catch-up vaccination against pertussis if they have never been vaccinated with Tdap. Pertussis is most severe for babies, who often catch the illness from a family member or other caregiver. More than one-third of infants less than one year old who get the disease must be hospitalized. Approximately 1 in 20 infants with pertussis get pneumonia (lung infection); and, about 1 in 100 infants will have convulsions. In rare cases, pertussis can be deadly, especially in infants less than 1 year of age.

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