ST. GEORGE – Whooping cough, also known as pertussis, has infected hundreds of Utahns over the past few months, including residents in Iron and Washington counties. Case numbers this year have already surpassed 2011 totals and the Southwest Utah Public Health Department is encouraging everyone to make sure they are up to date on vaccinations.
“We are currently dealing with a pertussis outbreak in Washington County,” said Lisa Starr, RN, SWUPHD Surveillance Nurse. “There are twenty cases we know of district-wide. Most are children under age 12 and were not vaccinated or current on their vaccines. This is a disease that is highly contagious and especially hard on infants and small children.
Pertussis is also known as whooping cough due to the “whooping” sound made when gasping for air after the coughing spasms. It usually starts with common cold symptoms but soon progresses to violent coughing that can last for weeks. These coughing fits can interrupt sleep, cause vomiting, and fracture ribs. Infants are more vulnerable to severe illness, hospitalization, and, in rare cases, death.
Vaccination is the most effective prevention against pertussis. Although infants are usually started on a series of pertussis shots, it takes at least 15 months for them to build up full immunity. Often adults or older children in the home are the ones who infect infants, so everyone age 10 and over should get a Tdap vaccine, which protects against pertussis, tetanus, and diphtheria.
“Less than half of all pre-kindergarten children in our area are caught up on their vaccinations,” Lisa Starr adds, “so we want to send out a plea to parents in our community to check their children’s records and make sure their kids are fully protected.”
Anyone with symptoms of pertussis should contact their doctor. An antibiotic is often prescribed which stops the illness from spreading and may lessen the symptoms.
For vaccination information, contact your healthcare provider or your local health department office. The SWUPHD currently has pertussis vaccines for all ages, including free Tdap vaccines for uninsured adults.
- Washington County: 986-2540
- Iron County: 586-2437
- Kane County: 644-2537
- Beaver County: 438-2482
- Garfield County: 676-8800