While the H1N1 virus seems to steal most of the health-related headlines in recent months, there is another public health nuisance that school officials are warning parents about.
The cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, increased in the Brainerd School District last year and Crow Wing County Public Health staffers hope that parents will make sure their children and themselves are up to date on their vaccinations before the cold and flu season begins.
Immunizations waited for an unsuspecting arm of a Brainerd student last Thursday during the school immunization clinic at Crow Wing County Public Health. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that affects the lungs and is spread from person to person through the air, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. A person suffering from pertussis develops a severe cough that usually lasts four to six weeks or longer. It can be a serious illness, especially in infants.
The symptoms may initially seem similar to a cold, with sneezing, a runny nose, possibly a low-grade fever and a cough. After a couple of weeks, the cough becomes severe. Many children will make high-pitched whooping sounds when breathing in after a coughing episode and a person's face or lips may turn blue from a lack of oxygen. Coughing episodes gradually become less frequent but could continue for several weeks or months until the lungs heal.
Brandie Joel, 12, Brainerd, received an immunization shot Thursday from Kathleen Hughes, a Crow Wing County Public Health nurse. Since there has been an increase in cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, in the school district, parents, particularly those of young children, are encouraged to get a Tdap vaccine, which provides immunity to pertussis, tetanus and diphtheria. Brainerd Dispatch/Kelly Humphrey » Purchase reprints of this photo.
There are two vaccines for pertussis, both given in combination with tetanus and diphtheria. The DTaP vaccine is given to children up to age 7 and is part of the regular immunization cycle for children at ages 2, 4, and 6 months, 15-18 months and at 4-6 years.
The Tdap vaccine is for people ages 10-64. It is recommended for children about 11-12 years old before they start middle school and children 13-18 years old should receive this vaccine if they haven't received a tetanus/diphtheria booster within the last five years. Adults are recommended to get a tetanus booster every 10 years.
Mary Lastovich, a Brainerd School District nurse, said the Tdap vaccine has only been available in the past couple of years so adults who previously had a tetanus booster did not receive the pertussis vaccine. Adults should get a one-time Tdap vaccine in place of a tetanus/diphtheria booster, especially if they care for infants 12 months old or younger, she said. Babies receive their first whooping cough vaccine at 2 months, leaving them unprotected and vulnerable for their first months of life.
"Someone with a new infant should get vaccinated," said Lastovich. "Two months is a long time for a child not to be protected."
Stephanie Kubas, a Crow Wing County Public Health nurse, said studies have found that children who have parents or caregivers who contract pertussis tend to get sicker than those who catch it from other sources. Kubas said adults and adolescents should get the Tdap booster because there can be a waning immunity from the illness over time. If it's been fairly recent that you've received a tetanus booster but don't know if it included pertussis immunization, check with your clinic to find out, said Kubas.
Crow Wing County Public Health offers regular immunization clinics from 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesday of each month by appointment only at the office at the Community Services Building, 204 Laurel Street, Suite 12, Brainerd. Cost is $40 for an adult to receive a Tdap vaccine. Public Health will bill medical assistance or Minnesota Care. For more information, contact Public Health at 824-1080 or toll free at (877) 724-1080.
The next school immunization clinic, for any Crow Wing County school-age child in need of vaccinations, will be from 3:30-6:30 p.m. Oct. 29.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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