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WUPHD still concerned with pertussis

Officials urging children to be immunized before school

August 17, 2010
By KURT HAUGLIE Houghton Daily Mining Gazette

HANCOCK - School starts after Labor Day, and Western Upper Peninsula Health Department officials are urging parents to get their children immunized before then, especially for pertussis.

Dr. Terry Frankovich, medical director of the WUPHD, said an outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough, began in March, and it's still causing problems.

"We continued to have cases over the last several months," Frankovich said. "It was my hope that as school got out, we would see a decline in cases."

The peak of the outbreak was in April with 23 confirmed cases in Baraga, Houghton and Keweenaw counties, Frankovich said, but in July, another 19 confirmed cases were reported.

The health department coverage area also includes Gogebic and Ontonagon counties, but Frankovich said there have been no confirmed cases in those counties, yet.

"It's locally spread," she said.

Once the illness gets into a community, Frankovich said it spreads quickly, especially in schools.

Exactly how this pertussis outbreak started is unknown, Frankovich said, but it isn't unusual.

"We know pertussis spikes," she said. "It circulates every five years."

The last outbreak was in 2005, Frankovich said.

The standard for pertussis immunization is at 2, 4, and 6 months old, with boosters at 4 to 6 years old, Frankovich said. Another booster is recommended at 11 years old. The one-time booster is approved for ages 11 to 64.

A new state law requires children entering sixth grade who are 11 years old or older, or 11 to 18 years old and changing schools, be immunized, Frankovich said.

The required immunizations are: two doses of varicella vaccine unless the students had chicken pox; one dose of meningococcal vaccine; one dose of tetanus/diptheria/acellular pertussis vaccine if five years have passed since last dose of tetanus/diphtheria vaccine.

It's a good idea for parents of infants also to get the pertussis booster to prevent passing the illness to the infant, Frankovich said.

"The most vulnerable are the young infants," she said. "One of the big imperatives is to protect those younger infants."

For infants less than 2 months old, Frankovich said the mortality rate after contracting pertussis is one in 100, which is high. For infants less than 1 year old, the mortality rate is one in 200.

Although the H1N1 influenza isn't the problem it was last year, Frankovich said it's still around.

"It's been quiet over the summer in the country," she said.

This year, Frankovich said the seasonal flu vaccine will contain the H1N1 dose, also.

Parents and others considering getting the pertussis and other immunizations should contact their family doctors to find out when their children were last immunized, or they could contact the WUPHD at 482-7382. The health department can provide vaccines to low-income families and individuals for $15.

"We have vaccines," she said.



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