Statewide Whooping Cough Epidemic Strikes Close to Home

Statewide Whooping Cough Epidemic Strikes Close to Home

(Aspen, CO) Although no cases of pertussis (“whooping cough”) have yet been diagnosed in Pitkin County in 2013, the highly contagious disease is spreading and has been found as close as neighboring Garfield County. Local public health officials are urging people who have contact with children, especially under the age of 12 months, to make sure their immunizations against the disease are up-to-date.

The Colorado Department of Public Health reports that in the first 10 months of 2013, 1,116 cases of pertussis were reported and continue to rise. The 1,494 cases in 2012 made it the state’s worst year for whooping cough, surpassing the 1,383 cases in 2005.

Pertussis is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract that spreads easily through the air in droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes and even through talking. The illness often starts with cold-like symptoms, including sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough. The cough becomes more severe during the first week or two, and often is characterized by episodes of rapid coughs (coughing fits), followed by a high-pitched inhale that sounds like a “whoop”. The cough may last for a couple of months and is more frequent at night. More than half infected infants need to be hospitalized and are at risk for further complications, including pneumonia, seizures, and apnea. In adults and adolescents, the disease is milder however resulting in lost work and school days.

“This disease can be very serious in infants, people who have weakened immune systems and people with chronic respiratory conditions,” said Director of Pitkin County Community Health Services, Liz Stark. “Even though we believe most school age children in our community have been immunized with the DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) the very young are still at risk.”   The vaccine for pertussis is given in combination with diphtheria and tetanus. Immunization authorities routinely recommend that five doses of DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine be given at two, four, six, 15 to 18 months of age, and between four and six years of age and a single dose of Tdap be administered at 11-12 years of age.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that one in 100 infants who contract pertussis dies.

“We all need to be careful in our community to protect infants under the age of 12 months by being vaccinated against pertussis ourselves. Whooping cough, once considered a disease of the past, due to multiple factors is now at epidemic levels in Colorado and is close by in both Garfield and Eagle counties. Because we have many commuters down valley, and a lot of visitors from the Front Range communities where numbers are the highest, Pitkin County is at particular risk for the spread of pertussis,” said Pitkin County Health Officer, Dr. Kimberly Levin.

Officials recommend that adults who spend time with young children, including parents, pregnant women, grandparents, siblings, babysitters, childcare workers, teachers, and healthcare workers get a Tdap vaccine. All adults aged 19 years and older who have not yet received a dose of Tdap should receive a single dose. Tdap should be administered regardless of the interval since the last tetanus vaccine.

Vaccines are now available by appointment at Community Health Services in Aspen, located in the Schultz Health and Human Services building across from Aspen Valley Hospital on Castle Creek Road. Cost is $20 Call 920-5420 to make an appointment.