Whooping cough rebounds as parents bypas
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|Fri, 10-03-2008 - 10:55am|
Whooping cough rebounds as parents bypass vaccinations
Three cases of whooping cough have been reported in northeastern Louisiana so far this year, all in Madison Parish.
Last year produced only one, in Ouachita Parish, state health officials said.
The higher number of cases this year is significant because whooping cough is potentially fatal, highly contagious and on the rise in the state and nationwide.
All this at a time when some parents are leery about getting their children vaccinated.
Judy Ray, immunization program supervisor for the Department of Health and Hospital's Region 8, said one of this year's involved an infant, while the other two involved slightly older children.
"There may be more cases that we didn't get a report on," Ray said.
The rise in cases in the region, which is made up of the 12 northeastern Louisiana parishes, is not isolated. The Office of Public Health's annual report for 2007 said whooping cough, also known as pertussis, is a growing problem in the state.
"Over the past 30 years, the number of cases of pertussis in Louisiana has progressively declined from approximately 25 to fewer than 15 cases per year and is now on the increase," the report states.
This year the state has 35 reported cases.
"The state has had an abnormally high number this year," Dr. Shelley Jones, Region 8 medical director for the Office of Public Health, said.
Whooping cough is an acute bacterial disease that is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Beginning symptoms are similar to those of an ordinary cold, but in more advanced cases, symptoms can include violent coughing and a high-pitched intake of breath that sounds like a "whoop."
Whooping cough can last anywhere from weeks to months; it's been called the "100-day cough."
Infants and anyone else with a serious case will likely need hospital care. Treatment involves an antibiotic, but unless it's given early in the course of the disease, the antibiotic does little to shorten the length of the illness, though it will prevent spread of whooping cough to others.
Immunization requires three shots: one at 2, 4 and 6 months of age. But even then, there is still a risk of infection. The vaccinations don't provide a sure-fire solution. Immunity can weaken over time and the shots may be more or less effective depending on the individual.
The disease historically has been most dangerous to infants too young to receive immunizations. But doctors are seeing more cases in teenagers and adults whose immunity has faded.
The state has started giving Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) shots to all individuals from age 11 to 64 who are getting other shots in an effort to stem the spread of whooping cough.
Public health officials said there is no clear explanation for the resurgence of the disease. One possibility is that the nation is in one of the disease's epidemic infection cycles, a period of two to five years in which propagation is hard to contain despite vaccinations.
The state is trying to combat the problem by instituting more rigorous vaccination programs and urging reluctant parents to vaccinate their children.
"We have more parents questioning the safety of vaccines," Jones said.
Much of that controversy is tied to the debate about potential ties between autism and thimersosal, a mercury-containing preservative formerly used in many vaccines. Scientists have not found a link between the two, and experts said the threat has been overblown. Nonetheless, many parents remain skeptical.
They can choose not to have their children vaccinated for personal or medical reasons, but schools send letters to non-complying parents urging them to reconsider.
"I think a lot of the younger parents have never seen the diseases and so they don't perceive the seriousness of those diseases," Ray said.
Jones said parents who choose not to vaccinate put their children and other unvaccinated people at risk.
Officials from Monroe City and Ouachita Parish schools said non-compliance is not a major issue.
"The majority of our students in this region are getting vaccinated," Ray said.
Jones attributes that success to increased vaccination sites.
Residents can get vaccinated for whooping cough and several other illnesses at their parish health unit for $10 — regardless of age or insurance status.
The state's Shots for Tots program offers free vaccinations at medical centers in the region.
Ray urges residents to be vigilant in getting all available vaccinations.
"If people stop vaccinating, you would see a resurgence of many of the diseases, not just whooping cough," she said.