By CRISTIN REECE
Local, state and federal healthcare professionals are urging Texans to make sure they get vaccinated for whooping cough as recent reports indicate cases of the deadly disease this year are on the rise.
The Texas Department of State Health Services issued a health alert last week advising doctors on diagnosing and treating pertussis. The state health department also strongly encourages people to make sure their children’s and their own vaccinations are up to date. While infants remain the most at risk, people of all ages can still get pertussis.
“This is extremely concerning. If cases continue to be diagnosed at the current rate, we will see the most Texas cases since the 1950s,” DSHS infectious diseases medical officer Dr. Lisa Cornelius stated in a release published on the DSHS website. “Pertussis is highly infectious and can cause serious complications, especially in babies, so people should take it seriously.”
Officials have reported nearly 2,000 pertussis cases so far this year, and predict the annual total to surpass the recent high of 3,358 cases in 2009.
There have also been two pertussis-related deaths in Texas this year, both of infants too young to be vaccinated. Ten cases had been reported in East Texas, including two in Gregg County and five in Upshur County.
Palestine Regional Medical Center officials reported Friday there have been no confirmed cases in recent months in Anderson County.
“The best way to prevent pertussis among infants, children, teens, and adults is to get vaccinated. Also, keep infants and other people at high risk for pertussis complications away from infected people,” Toby Johnson, employee health nurse at PRMC, said in an emailed statement to the Herald-Press. “People should contact the local health department or their primary physician to assess the need for vaccination or if a booster is needed.”
The local office of Texas Department of State Health Services can be reached at 903-729-1116 or visit the office at 330 E. Spring St., in Palestine.
Palestine’s Walgreens pharmacy, 2201 S. Loop 256, also provides the pertussis vaccine. No appointment is needed and most insurance providers cover these vaccination costs.
The pertussis vaccine was not available for adults until about eight years ago.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pertussis is a very contagious disease spread through aerosolized droplets from person to person. People with pertussis usually spread the disease by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others, who then breathe in the pertussis bacteria. The illness usually manifests with cold-like symptoms and a mild cough.
After a week or two, severe coughing can begin and last for several weeks. Coughing fits may be followed by vomiting or a “whooping” sound, the reason the disease is also called “whooping cough.”
Pertussis spreads easily through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes. People with pertussis are most contagious while they have cold-like symptoms and during the first two weeks after coughing starts.
“Anyone with an unexplained, prolonged cough or who has had close contact with a person with pertussis should contact their health care provider,” the DSHS website states. “Early diagnosis and treatment may reduce the severity of symptoms and shorten the contagious period. Patients who have pertussis should not go back to work or school until they’ve completed five days of antibiotic treatment.”
From 2000-2012, a total of 43 deaths were attributed to pertussis. Most of the deaths occurred in infants under 1 year of age — most in children too young to be vaccinated.
The DSHS is recommending pregnant women get a dose of pertussis vaccine during every pregnancy, preferably between 27 and 36 weeks of pregnancy. Fathers, siblings, extended family members, medical providers and others who will be around newborns should also be vaccinated.
During 2012, increased pertussis cases or outbreaks were reported in a majority of states, the CDC reports.
“There are several important factors leading to the increased reporting of pertussis cases including waning immunity in adults and adolescents; heightened awareness of the disease among clinicians, school nurses, parents, and general public; better laboratory testing methodologies; and enhanced disease surveillance capabilities,” the CDC website states.
The complete health advisory, including a link to vaccination recommendations for all ages, is available at www.dshs.state.tx.us/news/releases/Pertussis-Health-Alert.