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Utah pertussis cases at highest level since 1946

By Nkoyo Iyamba | Posted - Oct 3rd, 2012 @ 12:13pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The nation is in the midst of one of the worst whooping cough outbreaks in a half century.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already reported about 29-thousand cases with 14 deaths so far this year, and the health department is reporting several hundred cases in Utah.

In numbers released Tuesday, the Utah Department of Health has already tracked 851 cases of whooping cough — that's 44 more cases than the last highest peak in 2006. The department says these are the highest levels since 1946, when vaccines were made available for the infectious bacterial disease.

Syndy Lambert remembers her bout with whooping cough that lasted four months. She went to her doctor who put her on antibiotics right away. She had no idea she was experiencing symptoms of pertussis.

"You would cough and cough until you just couldn't breathe anymore, and you'd gag," she said. "I had no idea that it was even still around."

Health workers say pertussis spikes about every five years, so adults like Lambert should get vaccinated, mainly to keep from spreading the bacteria to the most susceptible group.

"Especially for young children ... they're the ones that are at higher risk for severe illness and sometimes even death with pertussis," said Theron Jeppson, an epidemiologist with the department of health.

About pertussis:
  • Affects any age; most serious in infants
  • Cause: Bacterium Bordetella Pertussis
  • Treatment: Generally consists of a course of antibiotics and supportive care
  • Recommended Vaccination: 2 months old, 3 more before age 2, one when entering school, booster in 7th grade
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the best way to prevent pertussis is to get vaccinated.

The health department's 2012 numbers show the highest cases of pertussis in the state are among kids ages 5–14 at 311 cases. The next highest are toddlers ages 1–4. Adults ages 15–44 reported higher rates than older age groups.

Even with vaccinations, Jeppson says the vaccine needs to be re-administered.

"The vaccine efficacy drops from 90 percent down to 70 percent after about five years," he said.

Jeppson says they're catching more pertussis cases than in previous years because of the advancements in technology.

"Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, their tests may have missed some of the cases, and they weren't able to diagnose them," he said.

But even today, Jeppson says the numbers the state released only represent cases that were reported. He says sometimes doctors just treat the pertussis rather than diagnose it, much like Lambert's doctor did.

"Then there may be people who choose not to go to the doctor," Jeppson said. "They don't look at it as a serious illness."

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