Letter to the Editor

Why vaccinate for pertussis?

Friday, April 20, 2018

PERTUSSIS is more commonly known as whooping cough. The vaccine for this highly contagious and sometimes lethal bacterial disease first became available in 1940. Prevention is mainly by vaccination with the pertussis vaccine. Diagnosis can be somewhat difficult in the early stages of the disease which is when antibiotics are most successful in its treatment. The reason for this is because it initially presents as a common cold with a runny nose, fever and a mild cough. However, as the disease progresses, the patient will experience fits of coughing that may last for 10 or more weeks. The cough can be so “violent” that it can result in vomiting, broken ribs and pure exhaustion from the effort. Children may not cough at all or very little and instead have periods where they do not breathe. Many children less than a year of age require hospitalization.

Pertussis is an airborne disease which spreads easily through the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. It is sometimes identified following a fit of coughing when the patient gasps or breathes in and there is a high-pitched “whoop” sound. From the start of symptoms until after approximately three weeks of the coughing fits, the infected person is contagious. Pertussis may occur in those who have been vaccinated, but the symptoms are typically milder.

Babies should receive the vaccine between six and eight weeks of age. Four doses are given before the baby is two years old. However, pertussis disease is not limited to infants. Because the vaccine becomes less effective over time, additional doses are recommended for older children and adults. The pertussis vaccine is included in the regimen for children entering kindergarten and then again when they enter the seventh grade. Adults should also receive at least one dose. It is now common protocol for pregnant women to receive the vaccine in their last trimester of each pregnancy in order to provide their newborn with some immunity. Doctors are also insisting that adults who are going to be around newborns be vaccinated to protect the baby. In addition, we are finding that more and more doctors are recommending that their geriatric patients receive the pertussis vaccine. Some older patients who suffered from whooping cough as a child may have some immunity for up to 70 years following their bout with the disease but it is definitely safer to receive another vaccine to reassure protection.

The Red Willow County Health Department invites you to call (308-345-1790) for an appointment for your baby or your kindergarten or seventh-grade student. Adults should also check on their immunizations to see if they are protected. Although Medicare does not cover this vaccine, most insurance policies do. It is considered a preventative vaccine and is, therefore, not subject to a deductible. If you are on Medicare, contact us and we can let you know what your supplement insurance would pay or you can take advantage of our discounted cash price. If your child doesn’t have insurance, we offer the state-funded Vaccines For Children program.

Several cases of whooping cough are currently being monitored in Southwest Nebraska so don’t hesitate to get your immunizations updated. Our clinic is located at the fairgrounds in McCook (1400 West 5th Street). Feel free to call us at 308-345-1790 for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Pam Harsh,

Red Willow County Health Department

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