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Health officials warn of whooping cough
Immunizations best way to curb diseases spread
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Whooping cough facts:

• Before vaccines, an average of 157 cases per 100,000 persons were reported in the U.S., with peaks reported every two to five years. After vaccinations were introduced in the 1940s, incidence fell dramatically to less than one per 100,000 by 1970.

• In 2009, nearly 17,000 cases of pertussis were reported in the U.S., but many more go undiagnosed and unreported. Since the 1980s, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of pertussis in the U.S., especially among 10-19 year olds and infants younger than 6 months of age.

• Worldwide, there are 30-50 million cases of pertussis and about 300,000 deaths per year.

• In Kansas, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports 150 cases between Jan. 1 and Nov. 1 of this year. The number was 221 in the same span in 2009, but the totals are pretty consistent from year to year.

Information from the Centers for Disease Control and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Brightly wrapped gifts may not be all we are giving each other this holiday season.

Barton County has two suspected cases of highly contagious pertussis, also known as whooping cough. One is an 8 month old baby and another is an elderly person.

"This is a serious disease," said Lily Akings, Administrator of Barton County Health Department. "Parents need to be aware that getting babies immunized on time is vital in protecting them from this outbreak and from other diseases prevented by immunizations."

Recent outbreaks of pertussis have been reported in at least two Kansas counties with 20 confirmed cases since June, ranging in age from 1 month to 49 years of age.

On a state level, Kansas Department of Health and Environment Communications Director Kristi Pankratz, there have been 150 cases reported between Jan. 1 and Nov. 1 of this year. That number is pretty consistent from year to year.

However, the total this year includes more young people. "The number of infants concerns us," she said.

Pertussis, called whooping cough because of the "whoop" sound made when coughing, is caused by bacteria. It can last up to six or more weeks. It can occur at any age, but is most common in infants younger than 6 months of age and children 10 to 14 years of age.

According to the KDHE, the bacteria are found in the mouths, noses, and throats of infected people. The bacteria are spread through sneezes and coughs and the symptoms usually appear 7-10 days after by inhaling the air-borne germs. Pertussis is particularly contagious during the early stage and becomes less so by the end of three weeks. Antibiotics will shorten the contagious period.

Infants under 6 months and persons with severe cases often require hospitalization and severe cases may require oxygen and mild sedation to help control coughing spells. Antibiotics may make the illness less severe if started early enough.

There is a vaccine to prevent pertussis. It is given along with diphtheria and/or tetanus vaccines in the same shot (called DTaP or Tdap). Giving a series of shots to children in early infancy can prevent it. Four doses (at 2, 4, 6 and 12 months) before starting Kindergarten are necessary. The final dose is given at age 4, just before starting school.

Since immunity to pertussis decreases over time, booster doses are recommended. Those eligible to receive the booster include persons age 10 through 64 and they should get that vaccine when due for their next tetanus booster.

"The best way to protect against pertussis is immunization," Akings said. "We know now that a person’s immunity to whooping cough doesn’t last for a lifetime and we need boosters for that as well as tetanus and diphtheria."