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Utah County sees highest levels of Pertussis in 5 years

Utah County sees highest levels of Pertussis in 5 years

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PROVO -- The highest rates of Pertussis seen in five years have Utah County officials urging the public to remain up- to-date on vaccinations.

The disease, commonly known as Whooping Cough, is highly contagious and affects both children and adults. It is vaccine-preventable, but complacency about vaccinations leads to a spike in cases every five to seven years, according to Dr. Joseph Miner, Utah County Health Department executive director.

There are currently more than 155 confirmed cases of the disease in Utah County, up from 38 cases in 2010.

"Our current rate is well over the national average," Miner said. "We haven't seen numbers like this since 2005 and 2006, when the new vaccine was introduced."

Early symptoms of pertussis
  • Runny nose
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild, occasional cough
  • Apnea -- a pause in breathing -- in infants

Miner said adults often do not understand the seriousness of the disease and fail to get vaccinations when appropriate. Healthcare providers also tend to test for the disease less often when there has not been a recent outbreak.

In addition, high levels of vaccine exemptions in schools may have contributed to the spike in diagnoses.

"Parents have to remember that besides putting their own children at risk, they are a threat to everyone around them for the potentially deadly disease," Miner said. "If an outbreak occurs in their school their children can be asked to stay home for two weeks or even longer."

The disease affects children and adults, but serious complications are often seen in infants and young children. More than half of infants younger than 12 months are hospitalized after contracting pertussis, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Symptoms typically include uncontrollable, violent coughing, which causes a ‘whooping' sound during inhalation. The ‘whoop' is often not noticed in adults and teenagers who contract the disease. Infants can have pertussis without a cough, and instead experience a pause in their breathing pattern.

Utah County Pertussis cases
Year, number of cases, rate per 100,000

2011, YTD: 155, 28.8

2010: 38, 7.4

2009: 55, 10.6

2008: 80, 17.2

2007: 73, 13.2

2006: 162, 34.1

2005: 117, 25

Children are first vaccinated against pertussis at two months of age. They receive three additional boosters before age two, one when entering school and another in the seventh grade. Adults should receive boosters every 10 years, according to Miner.

"With time our immunity wanes," he said. "(Receiving boosters) is especially important for parents, grandparents, and other contacts of newborns. While the adults don't tend to get as sick, they can expose these young babies who can be especially vulnerable to severe complications."

If diagnosed before severe coughing begins, antibiotics can make the infection less severe and can prevent the spread of the disease to those with whom the patient comes into contact.

The Utah County Health Department and many health providers offer a three-in-one combination vaccine called Tdap that protects against pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus.

"If you don't remember the last time you received a Tdap booster, it is probably time for another one," Miner said.

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Stephanie Grimes


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