Health Department urges updating vaccinations

Monday, November 6, 2006

Putnam County health officials confirmed Monday that they are dealing with a series of whooping cough cases in the South Putnam school district.

Letters were sent home to parents of South Putnam students telling them that several students have come down with the respiratory illness and that all high schools students in the district are urged to get vaccinated at an upcoming clinic.

The health department is asking parents of high school students to bring the letter that was sent home, along with current vaccination records, to the clinic scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Nov. 8 at South Putnam High School.

The state health department has provided the county with 500 doses of the DTaP vaccine with includes vaccination for diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis. At this time, only South Putnam High School students are being asked to come to the clinic.

"People who have or may have pertussis should stay away from young children and infants until properly treated," Putnam County Health Officer Dr. Robert Heavin said Monday. "Treatment of cases with certain antibiotics can shorten the contagious period."

According to information supplied by the health department, pertussis can cause long coughing spells that can last for several weeks. It is named for the "whoop" sound that a sick child makes after coughing, then drawing in air with a loud gasp.

Health officials warn that the illness is "highly contagious" and that parents should be aware of the symptoms.

Dr. Heavin explained that pertussis begins as a mild upper respiratory infection and resembles a common cold, including sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and mild cough. Within two weeks, however, it can worsen with episodes of numerous, rapid coughs, followed by a whooping sound. Also a thick, mucous is often discharged.

"The single most effective control measure is maintaining the highest possible level of immunization in the community," Dr. Heavin said.

Additional medical complications of whooping cough, the health department said, include pneumonia, middle ear infection, loss of appetite, dehydration, seizures, encephalopathy (disorders of the brain), brief moments of stopped breathing and even death.

Health officials are urging residents to keep their vaccinations up to date. Children should be given DTaP vaccine at two, four, six and 15-18 months of age, and between the ages of four and six years old.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, pertussis can strike people of any age, however, most cases occur in children under five years old. It is spread through direct contact with fluid from the nose or throat of an infected person. Siblings often spread it within families.

In the 20th Century, the health department said, pertussis was a major cause of childhood deaths in the United States. Before vaccinations became available in the 1940s, 200,000 cases were reported annually.

For more information, call the Putnam County Health Department at 653-5210.

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