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Whooping cough vaccinations urged

BY MALLORY PANUSKA mpanuska@paducahsun.com

Health officials in western Kentucky encourage people to get vaccinated for whooping cough, despite the area not being part of a statewide surge in reported cases. 

The Purchase District Health Department - covering Ballard, Carlisle, Fulton, Hickman and McCracken counties - reported 30 cases of pertussis, also called whooping cough, during 2015, said regional epidemiologist Rui Zhao. 

Zhao said that number is typical for the region and different than statewide statistics showing a jump in cases from August to December. Public health officials reported 87 cases across the state during those months with the highest concentrations in Jefferson County and northern Kentucky.

Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease transmitted through respiratory droplets from sneezing, coughing or talking. The vaccine-preventable disease can be deadly to infants too young to have been fully vaccinated, making it especially important for young children to be up-to-date on immunizations.

Zhao said all of the vaccines and boosters are necessary to prevent the spread of the disease because it is so contagious.

"A common misconception is that if you are vaccinated you can't get it," he said. "It's actually just far less likely. If you spend an extended period of time with someone who has it, there is still a chance of you getting it."

Infants are recommended to receive their first dose of pertussis vaccine, in combination with diphtheria and tetanus, at 2 months, 4 months and 6 months of age. Boosters are given as early as 12 months through 18 months and then around age 4 or 5. Older children and adults are encouraged to get a pertussis booster called Tdap.

Though anyone can contract whooping cough, the illness can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, infants younger than 1, and anyone with a pre-existing health condition that could worsen with a severe cough. Examples of such pre-existing conditions include cystic fibrosis or other chronic lung diseases, moderate to severe asthma, severe heart disease or a weakened immune system.

Early symptoms of pertussis include runny nose, sneezing, mild cough and low-grade fever. After one to two weeks, long coughing spells develop, which can last for weeks. Zhao said the coughing can become so severe that it causes loss of breath and even vomiting. He added that some people may mistake pertussis for the flu or the common cold at first, but the increasing severity of the coughing usually leads to a diagnosis of  pertussis. 

So far this month, 23 cases of pertussis have been confirmed across the state with none reported yet in the local area, Zhao said.

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