By Kim Walter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Earlier this week, West Virginia's health officials encouraged residents to get immunized against pertussis, or whooping cough, since 60 cases have been investigated in the state so far this year. However, residents of the Lord Fairfax Health District are being urged get the immunization as well.
Dr. Charles Devine, Health Director of the local health district, said he very much agrees with the need to immunize against whooping cough.
"Lord Fairfax Health District is aware of 9 cases confirmed in 2011, and 20 cases to this point in 2012," he said Tuesday. "These are the reported and confirmed cases only and do not reflect the larger number of cases that may have occurred but went unrecognized."
Whooping cough is a very contagious disease, Devine said, and is characterized by severe coughing caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Among vaccine-preventable diseases, pertussis is one of the most commonly occurring in the nation, he said.
The disease can be very serious in infants, where it can cause lung infections, seizures, inflammation of the brain and even death. While pertussis can occur at any age, it's most common in young children who haven't yet received a vaccination. Pertussis in older children and adults often causes milder illness that may go without diagnosis, Devine said.
Symptoms of pertussis occur in stages, beginning like a cold and then progressing to a cough lasting several weeks and sometimes resulting in a person vomiting or their lips or face turning blue from lack of oxygen.
Pertussis vaccines are given at 2, 4, 6, and 15 months of age, and then again when a child starts school, Devine said. Current recommendations also advise that children get a single booster dose at 11 to 12 years of age. It is also suggested that adults who anticipate having close contact with an infant should also get a booster dose, Devine said.
"The best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated," Devine said. He advised families to talk with their physicians to check that they are up-to-date with their vaccines.
"Because of the waning protection from vaccination, I believe that all adults should receive Tdap at least once as an adult," he said. "I have had mine. This will decrease the likelihood that they get pertussis and bring it home and infect their infant."
The Virginia Department of Health made a special purchase of the Tdap vaccine, and the local health district has a limited amount of it, Devine said. Shots can be provided for free to any adult 19 or older.
"I would love to see us move this vaccine out into the arms of our citizens to protect them and more especially to protect our infants from this disease," he said. "I especially encourage parents and caregivers of infants, people who come into contact with pregnant women, and healthcare workers to take advantage of our free Tdap vaccination. Just call for an appointment."
Dr. Karen Remley, Commissioner of Health, created a Pertussis Task Force to study the disease in Virginia, and published a report with their findings in May of this year.
"Virginia has been on the upswing of a cycle since 2008, with 399 [pertussis] cases reported in 2011," the report states. It goes on to say, "Because adults may not be aware they are infectious and even be asymptomatic, vaccination is a key to preventing transmission...The morbidity and societal cost of pertussis is substantial."
The report concluded with a question as to why more adults weren't getting the vaccine in Virginia, and called for "educating the public and involvement of trusted healthcare providers in recommending Tdap."
Devine agreed, and said that many adults probably don't realize that the pertussis vaccine is recommended for adults.
"Tdap is more important from a public health point of view because we hope to prevent illness in infants by vaccinating adults," he said.
Numbers and locations for the local health district's offices can be found at www.vdh.state.va.us/LHD/LordFairfax/Offices.