Immunized adults the best protection kids have from whooping cough - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Immunized adults the best protection kids have from whooping cough

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Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 4:00 pm | Updated: 4:35 pm, Wed Dec 3, 2014.

Two weeks ago, Eileen Garcia's family took her to the doctor with a cough. Told it was "just a cough," they returned home. But over that weekend, the then-6-week-old's condition worsened. She began to choke and struggled to breathe when she coughed, dad Frank Garcia said.

After another visit with doctors in Yuma, Eileen was flown to Mesa's Cardon Children's Medical Center, where she is now being treated for pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.

Last week, the California Department of Public Health declared a whooping cough epidemic, with 910 cases reported as of June 15. That is four times the number of cases reported for the same period last year. The department is also looking at another 600 people who may have the disease.

Arizona's health leaders are using this as a reminder for adults: It's time to get a booster shot against the disease.

Frank Garcia said no one in the family was sick prior to Eileen's cough beginning. They are unsure where she picked up the disease. She is being treated with antibiotics.

"She's better now," he said from her hospital room. The family wasn't aware of the disease prior to the diagnosis at the Mesa hospital.

Pertussis is a bacteria that can be passed from person to person through droplets released by coughs or sneezes. It leads to spastic, sometimes violent coughing.

Arizona has seen 114 cases this year, through June 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time last year, there were 88 confirmed cases.

In adults, the disease may look like a common cold, with a runny nose and cough, but no fever. The coughing can progress and last for weeks, even months. It can become so intense, older children or adults may vomit. Some have broken ribs, doctors said.

In infants, the disease can be deadly because the child cannot catch his or her breath. Children get their first vaccine for pertussis at 2-months old, with additional shots at 4-months and 6-months. But they're not completely immunized until they've had all three shots. And even then, they're only protected about 80 percent, said Dr. Bob England, director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

That's why infants and young children are so vulnerable and why the adults around them - parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and caregivers - need to be properly vaccinated.

The CDC recommends a booster shot between 15 and 18 months of age and again between the ages of 4 and 6. Older children should be vaccinated again at age 12.

Arizona requires four shots for children entering kindergarten through fifth grade. Children age 11 and entering sixth or seventh grade are required to get another dose - usually a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) shot - if five years have passed since the last one.

California recommends the booster for middle school children, but does not require it.

That may be one reason Arizona has not seen the huge jump in cases that California has, said Dr. Cara Christ, medical director for the Bureau of Epidemiology and Disease Control at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

"The best defense is the vaccination. What we strongly encourage is parents to get vaccinated, especially if they're going to have a newborn or infant in the house or if they take care of an infant. That's where a number of the cases initiate from: a parent, a caregiver or a sibling," Christ said.

Most adults have not likely had the pertussis booster, since it's only been around since 2005, state and county health officials say. A new law allows adults to get the vaccine from a pharmacist, in addition to their primary care doctor.

Pertussis is cyclical, arriving as an outbreak about every three to five years, Christ said. The last large outbreak was in 2005.

This year through May 31, Maricopa County has had 22 confirmed cases and 107 probable cases. Five were infants.

"Pertussis used to be one of those ‘childhood diseases' because it's contagious enough that many, many, many kids would get it. Along came the vaccine and we were able to build herd immunity," said England. "The concept is that it's not so much your vaccine that protects you as that all the people around you who have been vaccinated. The germs have a hard time finding people to jump to from one person to the next and therefore you never get exposed in the first place."

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