A Preventable Disease
Whooping cough cases soar, but experts say a simple vaccine can save the day and lives.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Last year, California had the highest incidence of whooping cough in 52 years. More than 8,000 cases of whooping cough were confirmed, including 10 infant deaths. In 2009, 19 cases were reported in Monterey County, and that number soared to 132 cases in 2010.
This illness and these deaths could have been prevented. It’s as simple as a vaccine called the Tdap booster.
To better combat another epidemic, California passed a law for school year 2011-2012 requiring all students going into seventh to 12th grades to have a Tdap booster shot before the first day of school. This includes current, new and transfer students in both public and private schools.
As a physician, I have seen how whooping cough is easily spread when someone with the disease coughs or sneezes; tiny droplets containing the bacteria spread through the air, and then the disease easily spreads from one person to another.
Whooping cough can be scary, particularly for the very young, very old and anyone with breathing problems. This bacterial disease causes uncontrollable, violent coughing fits and makes it difficult to breathe; these symptoms can last for months. And the best defense is vaccination.
MANY CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS HAD TO CLOSE BECAUSE THERE WERE NOTE ENOUGH HEALTHY TEACHERS.
The vaccine will enable a child to be better protected during their school years. Not only does it benefit the child, it also helps to protect others within the home, in the community and at school. Last year, many California schools suffered from oubreaks of whooping cough and were forced to close because there were not enough healthy teachers to keep schools open.
Getting everyone immunized statewide is no easy task—there are approximately 3 million students from seventh to 12th grade in California that need to be vaccinated before the start of the next school year. To help spread the word about this new mandate, the California Medical Association Foundation has launched a whooping cough awareness project statewide that offers free materials and adolescent immunization charts.
Now that the school year has ended, I urge parents to schedule an appointment with their child’s physician as soon as possible for the vaccination. At that visit, I recommend parents ask about all of the adolescent vaccines available (HPV, chickenpox, seasonal flu and meningococcal).
If a child does not have a regular doctor, there are plenty of other options to get the vaccine, including clinics and pharmacies. Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) offers free or low-cost vaccines for eligible patients 18 years and younger. To find a VFC physician, visit http://bit.ly/lpqoC5 or call 1-877-243-8832. For uninsured patients, find a list of qualified health centers at http://www.oshpd.ca.gov/RHPC/Clinics/FQHCS.html.
The California Department of Public Health also has resources available to prepare for the Tdap mandate at www.ShotsforSchool.org.
Along with vaccinations, there are other things that can be done to help prevent spreading whooping cough. It’s important to make sure children are washing their hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, covering their mouths when they cough and, most important, if they are sick, staying home from school.
There is no need reason California should have to go through another whooping cough epidemic. Make sure your children are vaccinated today.
DR. VALERIE BARNES, M.D., is director of pediatric services for Natividad Medical Center.