Health: Pertussis cases on the rise in Kentucky

By Debbie Howes Fleming Published:

Immunizations against preventable diseases and clean drinking water are two of the greatest interventions accomplished by public health. At the turn of the 20th century, the leading causes of illness and death among children in the United States were diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

These are three deadly diseases caused by bacteria and are vaccine preventable diseases. When germs invade the body and make us sick, the body begins to produce antibodies whose only job is to destroy those germs. The antibodies remain in the system producing immunity and therefore protecting us from that disease in the future.

If there is natural immunity why immunize?

The problem with natural immunity is that you must first get sick to produce the necessary antibodies. Infants, young children and people with compromised immune systems may not be able to produce enough antibodies in time to fight off the effects of the illness. However since vaccines are produced from the germs that cause an illness such as measles, dead or very weak germs are introduced into the body through vaccination. Antibodies are produced without the exposure to potential deadly disease.

Immunizing your children and yourself is another way of protecting their safety. Besides protecting the individual child, immunizations protect the people around that child especially those who either have not been vaccinated or cannot be vaccinated due to young age or medical conditions. Making sure that your child has been properly immunized today will also help protect future generations.

Smallpox, a once deadly disease, has been eradicated from the world because enough people received the smallpox vaccination. Sadly, the reverse is also true concerning other childhood illnesses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 1974 Japan had a strong and successful campaign against pertussis or whooping cough, where 80 percent of all Japanese children had been vaccinated. In 1976 that figure dropped to 10 percent being vaccinated. In 1979, there was a major pertussis epidemic. There were more than 13,000 cases of pertussis and 41 people died.

The Kentucky Department for Public Health is reporting an increase in pertussis cases in Kentucky this year. There have been 177 confirmed cases to date as compared to 168 in 2011. Estill, Madison and Northern Kentucky counties are currently in outbreak status.

Kentucky is not alone. A pertussis epidemic has been declared in Washington State. Minnesota, Wisconsin and other states are reporting high rates. Nationally, more than 17,000 cases and nine pertussis-related deaths have been reported to the CDC. The majority of deaths occurred among infants younger that three months of age.

The Franklin County Health Department (FCHD) is joining other health departments in adopting pertussis control measures and prevention strategies. Children younger than seven should receive the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine to help develop immunity against these diseases.

The current recommendation is that all children 10 years or older should receive one dose of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) as a booster prior to entering school. FCHD encourages all parents and caregivers to make sure their child or children are up to date on their immunizations. It is recommended that all potential close contacts of newborns, including adults, be immunized with either DTaP or Tdap.

For more information concerning immunizations, contact FCHD clinic at 564-7647.

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