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Utah doctors concerned about rise in pertussis cases


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PROVO -- Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, can be fatal, and the number of cases in Utah is up. One mother who almost lost her baby says people are clueless about how this disease is spread.

Health officials in Utah are worried about an outbreak of the disease. Young children are immunized for it several times in childhood, beginning when they are two months old. But your immunity fades over time and adults may unknowingly be making babies sick.

Varenka Harman's 2-month-old daughter was a week away from getting the pertussis booster when she contracted the disease
Varenka Harman's 2-month-old daughter was a week away from getting the pertussis booster when she contracted the disease

It's what happened to Varenka Harman's 2-month-old daughter.

"Just started to cough and cough and then it was apparent she was choking and she turned purple," Harman said.

The infant was a week away from getting her first pertussis booster when she got sick. For the past two weeks, Harman has been at her daughter's side in the hospital.

"It's tough to watch your daughter choking to death from a bacteria-caused illness that could have been prevented with others getting immunized," she said.


It's tough to watch your daughter choking to death from a bacteria-caused illness that could have been prevented with others getting immunized.

–Varenka Harman


Half of all infants who get pertussis are hospitalized, and one percent of babies won't survive. That's why doctors urge adults around babies to get a booster.

"Parents of infants, aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas -- any adult, especially adults who have contact with infants should ask their doctor about pertussis boosters," said Dr. Shad Outsen, a pediatric hospitalist.

The obvious symptom of pertussis is a cough that won't go away.

"With a common cold, a cough should come and go, but in pertussis the cough can last weeks," said Outsen. "If you find yourself or your children with a cough that last weeks, you should see a doctor."

It's this mother's plea, as she watches her daughter suffer from a preventable illness.

"All of this could have been avoided," Harman said. "I don't think people are purposely going around passing on pertussis, but they are passing it around from not knowing they are supposed to be getting a booster shot."

Harman's daughter still faces several weeks in the hospital.

The pertussis booster has been available since 2005 and protects adults as well as babies who are too young to be vaccinated.

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

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