The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is urging vaccinations as it reports the first infant death due to pertussis in the state. Officials are reporting a statewide increase in the highly contagious infection commonly known as "whooping cough". As of July 20, 2012, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention have received reports of nearly 18,000 cases of pertussis in 2012. That's more than twice as many cases as were reported in 2011, or any of the past five years. Experts are concerned about the potential for a record high year for pertussis.
Whooping cough is a highly contagious illness that is spread person-to-person, usually by coughing or sneezing while in close contact with others. Health officials say while pertussis is serious, it can be prevented through immunization. Pertussis is most serious in infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated. The child who died was from Forsyth County, and was just two months old. The vaccine, DTaP, is given as a series of shots, available starting at two months old. The next doses are scheduled at four months, six months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years old. Children need the full series to be protected.
"Babies and young children are not fully immunized until they have finished a series of vaccinations, so their only protection against whooping cough is the people around them," said State Health Director Dr. Laura Gerald. "Anyone who lives with or will be around a baby should be vaccinated."
The vaccine does wear off over time, so officials recommend a booster vaccine, Tdap, for adolescents and adults. The Tdap booster shot is recommended for any child between the ages of seven and ten who did not complete the childhood DTaP vaccination series and anyone 11 and older who has not yet received a Tdap booster. Tdap is also particularly recommended for pregnant women, anyone who cares for infants, and people with pre-existing chronic respiratory conditions.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced in March that the Tdap vaccine would be available at no-cost to anyone seven years and older for a limited time. There may be an administration fee depending on your health care provider. The vaccine is still readily available through the N.C. Immunization Network, which includes private health care providers and local health departments.
The Rowan County Health Department is holding a free, walk-in clinic for the Tdap vaccine Tuesday, August 21. Anyone who needs the booster can drop in between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. If you think your child needs a dose of their childhood DTaP, bring their immunization records to the clinic. You can also call (704) 216-8786 to set up an appointment.
For more information from the state about the pertussis vaccine, click here.