To the editor:
Some people may not have heard, but there is an ongoing whooping cough epidemic happening in the Mat-Su Valley and the rest of Alaska.
Whooping cough is officially called pertussis. It usually begins like a common cold with a runny nose and mild cough. However, as the illness progresses, the child begins to cough violently, over and over, until the air is gone from his or her lungs and the child is forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound. This sound gives the disease its nickname, whooping cough. Children often cough uncontrollably until they throw up. These severe coughing spells can go on for weeks.
Pertussis is an illness caused by pertussis bacteria, which attack the lining of the breathing passages in the lungs. This causes inflammation and narrowing of the breathing passages and severe coughing. The germ is easily spread with the cough.
More than 50 percent of babies with pertussis must be hospitalized. Coughing can be so severe that it is hard for babies to eat, drink or breathe.
• Babies may bleed behind the eyes and in the brain from coughing.
• About one child in 10 with pertussis also gets pneumonia, and about one in 50 will have seizures.
• Brain damage occurs in one out of every 250 children who get pertussis.
• Pertussis causes 10 to 20 deaths each year in the United States. (Approximately 50 out of every 10,000 children less than 1 year of age who develop pertussis die from the disease).
A parent should contact their physician when:
• a very young infant who has not been fully immunized and/or has had exposure to someone with a chronic cough or the disease,
• a child’s cough becomes more severe and frequent, or his or lips and fingertips become dark or blue,
• a child becomes exhausted after coughing episodes, eats poorly, vomits after coughing, and/or looks “sick.”
Pertussis will develop in 90 percent of unvaccinated children living with someone with pertussis, and in 50 percent to 80 percent of unvaccinated children who attend school or day care with someone with pertussis.
In 2004, adolescents 11 to 18 years of age and adults 19 to 64 years of age accounted for 34 percent and 27 percent of the cases of pertussis in the U.S. The true numbers are probably much higher in these age ranges because pertussis is often not recognized in adults. These cases are very important because teenagers and adults with pertussis can transmit the infection.
The best way to protect your child against pertussis is with immunizations at two months, four months and six months of age, and booster shots at 12 to 18 months and at 4 or 5 years of age.
This also protects against pertussis. A single dose of Tdap vaccine should be administered to children ages 7 through 10 who were under-immunized with DTaP or who have an incomplete vaccine history.
The American Academy of Pediatrics continues to recommend vaccination of adolescents, including pregnant adolescents. Pregnant women should also receive the vaccine. A single dose should be given to adults who have contact with infants, even if they are older than 65, and for health care workers of any age.
So, please be aware of this serious but preventable illness. Please encourage unvaccinated people to contact their healthcare provider or Mat-Su Public health at 352-6600.
Tamara Krimm, M.D., FAAP
Medical director of Mat-Su Community Pediatrics
Physician adviser to Mat-Su School Borough