This holiday season, make sure to get pertussis shot

This time of year, many are busy preparing for the holidays and attending holiday gatherings. A little less sleep, a little more stress, a little less attention to basic public-health precautions such as washing hands, covering coughs and getting vaccinations to protect against more than just the flu.

Another illness that commonly increases during the winter months is pertussis (whooping cough). Colorado already has a 400 percent increase this year. Fortunately, La Plata County, so far has escaped the trend with just three cases reported.

“However, with holiday season comes travel to and from Southwest Colorado to all parts of the state and the country to visit friends and family,” said Joe Fowler, a registered nurse at San Juan Basin Health Department. ”The most effective measure to protect ourselves and our families through the holidays and in 2013 is to maintain the highest levels of pertussis immunization in our community.”

Our immunization program currently is outreaching to local schools and child care centers in an effort to prevent pertussis, particularly among infants and young children. These are the age groups most susceptible to both getting pertussis and serious consequences. Rates in Colorado continue to be highest among infants younger than 12 months old. Of even more concern is the high proportion of hospitalization. Since last January, 44 percent of the babies younger than 6 months old who got pertussis were hospitalized.

Pertussis is a highly contagious disease that spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It begins with symptoms similar to the common cold. However, it becomes more severe with uncontrollable, violent coughing lasting potentially a couple of months. A deep “whooping” sound often is heard when the patient tries to take a breath.

In an effort to reduce pertussis, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment provided funding to vaccinate more people. The approach is two-pronged, said Fowler. The first component is ensuring children through kindergarten are current on their pertussis vaccinations. Working with schools, Fowler already has begun providing shots at the schools – removing yet another barrier for parents.

The second prong involves vaccinating those who interact with an infant or young child. This effort is crucial, said Fowler, to ensure the disease is not brought home.

“We’re vaccinating parents, siblings, grandparents, child care providers, anyone involved in the life of an infant or young child,” he said. “As we gain a better understanding that immunity from this vaccine wanes over time, this becomes a critical piece in the overall goal of protecting the most vulnerable.

“Just like many diseases that we may not personally witness, it’s easy to underestimate the serious consequences,” said Fowler. “Seeing whooping cough in a young infant or child can be heartbreaking and frightening. I don’t want parents to minimize how serious it can be.”

People can contact their doctor or the health department to ensure they’re up to date with pertussis. San Juan Basin Health is offering pertussis vaccinations for children and adults for $15 if you come in before Dec. 30. Call 335-2013 to schedule an appointment. For more information, visit sjbhd.org/immunizations.

San Juan Basin Health wishes you all a happy and healthy holiday season.

Jane Looney is the communications director for the San Juan Basin Health Department.

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