About Chelyen Davis:
Chelyen Davis is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star
Health Department offering pertussis shots to adults as a way of protecting infants
Health officials said this week that they hope to better protect infants from pertussis or whooping cough by offering booster shots free to adults who have contact with them.
“We want to get all the teachers, teacher’s aides, parents, daycare workers and grandparents,” said Alyce Finch, immunization coordinator for the Rappahannock Area Health District. The shots are being offered at local Health Department offices during their regularly scheduled immunization clinics.
The effort is part of a nationwide push to get more adults vaccinated with the pertussis booster or Tdap shot. Between 5 and 9 percent of adults have received the Tdap booster, according to a federal health survey. Mary Washington Hospital recently started offering the Tdap booster to new mothers who have not had the shot previously, Finch said.
“Even though pertussis is primarily a childhood illness, we do know that it happens in adults,” said Dr. Brooke Rossheim, district health director.
Pertussis continues to torment children across the state and nation, though the disease appears to be less of a problem locally than it once was.
“Last year was a bad pertussis year,” Rossheim said this week. “This year, we’ve had our share, but we haven’t been overrun with calls.”
Twenty cases of pertussis were reported in the health district through August of this year. Last year during the same period, 23 cases were reported. Statewide 219 cases were reported for the first eight months of the year, compared to 133 for the same period in 2010.
“We’ve been on the increase since 2007,” said Sandra Sommer, quality assurance and policy manager for the Virginia Department of Health.
Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection, passed though the cough droplets of an infected person. When children have the disease, they can have cough spasms, or long coughing fits. Frequently, they make a high-pitched wheeze or whoop when breathing in, hence the name whooping cough.
Younger children can be protected from the disease through the DTaP vaccine, a series of five shots, given at 2,4 and 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years. The vaccine is also included in the Tdap booster, given to sixth-graders.
“Infants are very vulnerable,” Sommer said. “They are hospitalized more often than other age groups.”
(You can hear what whooping cough sounds like at this web site. More on the Rappahannock Area Health District’s immunization clinics can be found here. The CDC’s web page on pertussis is here. For more on local efforts to combat pertussis, see the story soon in the paper.)