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Seven Pertussis Cases on San Juan Island

There are now seven confirmed or probable case of pertussis on San Juan Island according to County Health Officer Frank James. In 2011, there have been 58 cases in infants  less than one year of age. Twenty-two of them were hospitalized, including one from San Juan County.  Of those 22 infants hospitalized, 18 were three-months of age or younger including two who died.

“Pertussis is a very serious disease in young children and there is no vaccine to protect children under 2 months of age, and the vaccine requires a series of doses to be fully effective” said Dr James.  The best way to protect infants is for all adults and children who come in contact with them to get vaccinated. “Community Immunity” is the most important protection there is for babies according to Dr James.

Close contact, particularly now that school is back in session, is one of the main ways that the disease is spread.  State Law and School Policy both direct schools to keep children who are susceptible to the disease out of school so that they do not transmit the infection to classmates and school personnel.

Pertussis causes coughing spells in infants that are so severe that they have difficulty eating, drinking and even breathing. These episodes can lead to pneumonia, seizures and even death.

“Babies should be kept away from people with a cough if at all possible,” says County Personal Health Services Manager Susan Leff, RN. “Babies with any trouble breathing or a coughing illness should be checked by a doctor right away.”

Older children and adults usually have much milder symptoms than babies and often seem to have only a cold with runny nose, cough and mild fever, however the cough is usually persistent and lasts for two weeks or longer. Covering your cough, washing your hands and being sure to be fully protected so that you do not transmit this disease to others are the most important actions you can take, according to Leff.

Antibiotics can be effective in treating the disease, especially if started early. Most people only need a 5 day course of the medication. The medication also limits the spread of the disease. But Dr. James advises that vaccination against whooping cough is the most important action families can take to protect the most vulnerable in our community.

A total of 431 cases of whooping cough from 26 counties have been reported so far in Washington State this year. Last year over the entire 12 months there were only 378 cases. San Juan is one of three counties that have had hospitalized infants. It is especially important that those who have regular contact with infants be vaccinated, including healthcare personnel and close family members, pregnant women are particularly urged to be vaccinated as the disease is most severe in the very young children.

The vast majority of people get the vaccination series that protects them and their families but immunity wears off over time. The “Tdap” vaccine should be gotten by those that have not had it, and being vaccinated is critical for people who have a newborn infant in the home, or who come into regular contact with young children.

The expected early symptoms of pertussis (whooping cough) are mild and similar to a common cold with sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and mild cough. However within two weeks the cough can become severe and develop into coughing fits, which in younger patients can be followed by a high pitched whoop. People are infectious and can spread the disease from the earliest symptoms up to three weeks after onset of the coughing episodes. Anyone who has a severe or persistent cough should receive medical evaluation and should stay away from young children, babies and pregnant women until they have negative test results or are treated.

The Mayo Clinic has made an informational video available online which includes a recording of the distinctive cough it can produce in children.

More information about pertussis can be found on the Washington State Department of Health Website

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