Health Department urges parents to immunize kids against whooping cough

Parents are urged to get children fully immunized against pertussis (whooping cough). This disease is potentially fatal in young children less than one year old. Vaccination is possible as early as six weeks of age.

Currently the Health Department is investigating several confirmed cases of pertussis on Orcas Island. Most people who have been in contact with these cases have been notified and referred to their family physicians for preventive treatment. For close contacts and suspected cases of any age a course of antibiotics is recommended to prevent disease or limit contagiousness

Pertussis is most contagious during the first week when symptoms are mild, similar to a bad cold. The irritating cough persists and gradually develops into a series of repeated and violent coughs (many occur without an opportunity to inhale), and then may be followed by a high-pitched whoop as they inhale and/or vomiting. Anyone with these symptoms is urged to avoid contact with small children until examined by a health care provider to prevent spreading the disease. The contagious period lasts until three weeks after the onset of the fits of coughing or until five days of treatment with an appropriate antibiotic have been completed. The illness may last for two months or longer.

Pertussis is among the most lethal diseases of unimmunized infants and young children. Parents should keep young infants and unimmunized children away from individuals with even mild cough and upper respiratory illness and start the series of immunizations with the DTaP vaccine. Immunization of children less than seven years of age is critical for control of pertussis.

It is known that older children and adults with mild persistent cough illness (unrecognized as pertussis) are another major source of transmission. There is now a vaccine available for those seven years of age and older. Called Tdap, it provides a booster dose of pertussis vaccine along with tetanus and diphtheria vaccines. This new vaccine is recommended for adolescents getting their routine booster dose. Vaccine is available through the San Juan County Health Department and through local physicians.

Contact the Health Department at 378-4474 for information regarding pertussis disease.