BOISE - Idaho is urging anyone who is around infants to get vaccinated for pertussis, or whooping cough, after cases surged in the past six months.
Six babies have died in California from pertussis in recent months, and an Idaho infant died of the disease in 2009. Vaccination is the best prevention, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, but Idaho has one of the lowest immunization rates in the nation.
“We urge parents, household members, and other caregivers to get vaccinated against this disease, to protect babies,” said Dr. Christine Hahn, Idaho state epidemiologist. “We know that in many cases, it’s the mom, dad, grandparent, or sibling that infects the babies that end up getting so sick. Vaccination of the rest of us remains the best way to protect the most vulnerable persons in our population, who are too young to be fully protected by their immunizations.”
Adults may not even know they have the disease, which is characterized by severe coughing spells that can cause shortness of breath and gagging, and also may be marked by a runny nose and low-grade fever. It’s far more severe for infants, and can lead to pneumonia, seizures, encephalitis and death.
Of the 77 cases reported so far in Idaho this year, 51 were in the five North Idaho Panhandle counties, including cases in Athol, Rathdrum, Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene. Last year, Idaho had 99 cases, just eight of them in the Panhandle; Washington had 460 statewide and one death.
According to the 2008 national immunization survey, 77 percent of Idaho children are immunized against pertussis and 31.7 percent of teens; adult immunizations aren’t tracked. In Washington, 82.7 percent of kids are immunized, and 34.7 percent of teens; the national average is 84.6 percent for children and 40 percent for teens.
For overall child immunizations, Idaho ranks 50th in the nation at 57.6 percent, behind only Montana; Washington was at 73.7 percent, and the national average is 77.2 percent.
Since 2005, a pertussis booster vaccine has been available for those age 11 and older; it’s combined with a tetanus booster, and is called the Tdap. That’s the recommended vaccination for those who are near infants during the current outbreak.
“We know that when infants contract pertussis, it is from the adults around them,” said Idaho Department of Health and Welfare spokeswoman Emily Simnitt.
Pertussis vaccines are available at doctor’s offices. The booster is designed to bolster the effect of a childhood immunization, which fades over time.
Idaho’s reported pertussis cases so far this year are 75 percent ahead of last year’s figures for the same time period; last year was Idaho’s worst year for pertussis since 2005, when the state saw 211 cases.
Idaho Health and Welfare officials recommend keeping young infants away from people with cough illnesses. Pertussis can be treated with antibiotics; the disease is contagious for up to three weeks.