SEARHC encourages prevention against whooping cough

SITKA ­— The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) is joining with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to recommend that all Alaskans make sure they have a current pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination.

In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this summer’s whooping cough outbreak could become the worst in the United States in more than half a century. Already this year Washington, Wisconsin and Minnesota have reported thousands of cases, and Washington declared a state health emergency in May with emergency funds being used to buy vaccines.

As of Aug. 27, Alaska had reported 113 cases compared to just 24 last year, with the vast majority of cases located in the Anchorage/Mat-Su Valleys/Interior regions. However, there recently has been a confirmed case in Haines and more are expected in Southeast Alaska.

“Pertussis is very contagious,” said Dr. Russ Bowman, DO, SEARHC Community Health Care Services Medical Director. “I’ve had it myself, and it’s miserable when you have it. There’s no treatment for it, so please get a (vaccine) booster. See your provider and we can make sure you’re covered.”

Health officials believe one reason for the higher number of cases is because of waning vaccine protection, especially now that they use a different vaccine than a few years ago.

Whooping cough starts out with cold-like symptoms such as a fever, runny nose and sneezing, and is accompanied by a mild cough that grows more severe by the first or second week. A high-pitched whoop, which gives the illness its name, can follow violent coughing fits, but not in all cases. In extreme cases, pertussis can cause death (usually among infants), and about 40 percent of infants who get pertussis wind up in the hospital.

While the number of cases in Alaska is low compared to other states, state health officials worry the number of cases in Alaska could grow since so many Alaskans travel through Washington.

State and federal health officials recommend all children from age 2 months through 6 years old get the five-dose DTaP vaccine, which also protects against diphtheria and tetanus. The single-dose Tdap booster vaccine is recommended for adolescents age 11-18 (preferably those age 11-12) and adults ages 19-64, especially those who might have contact with children.

In addition to making sure children are current with their DTaP vaccine and adolescents and adults are current with their Tdap vaccines, there are other ways to prevent the spread of pertussis.

Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially after coughing and before handling food. If you don’t have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Cough into a tissue and then throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough into your sleeve or elbow instead of your hands. If you feel sick, stay away from other people (don’t go to school or work) so you don’t spread the bacteria that cause pertussis.

To learn more about pertussis, go to the CDC’s page http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/index.html for info about how to prevent the disease’s spread. The state also has a page, http://www.epi.hss.state.ak.us/id/dod/pertussis/pertussis.htm.

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