County department recommends getting cough booster shot

John Oberlin

Portage County Health Department is urging adults to get a booster shot for pertussis, better known as whooping cough. This year, the county has recorded eight cases in the area so far — as opposed to one total in 2005.

Nationally, recorded cases are also increasing, and the Center for Disease Control recommended that all adults get the shot.

Children are considered to be at the greatest risk. Infected infants are at risk for death because the whooping associated with pertussis restricts the respiratory system.

The vaccination shot given to children for whooping cough has been found to wane during adolescence, and adults who have contracted the bacteria either think it is a long-lasting cough, are misdiagnosed or never tested.

This in turn can affect infants in the care of parents, health care workers or any other person in close physical contact. The pertussis bacteria is transmitted in droplets inhaled into the respiratory system.

Preventing the bacteria from entering your body is basic — coughing etiquette.

“Cover your cough and clean your hands,” said Beth Young, infection control coordinator at Robinson Memorial Hospital. “It’s so basic that people minimize that message.”

After the CDC made the booster shot recommendation, Robinson Memorial Hospital chose to begin immunizing its staff members who work with infants, young children and new mothers, whom Young says usually bring their newborns with them to checkups. Eventually, once the hospital has enough of the vaccination, the whole staff will be vaccinated. Young says this will probably happen within the year.

The Portage County Health Department has also begun vaccinating its own staff. The department will urge parents who bring in their children to get vaccinated as well.

Prevention costs less in the end once the sum of health care and prescription costs are considered, said Kelly Engelhart, nursing director at the Health Department.

“The reason we want to immunize adults is to protect under-immunized children,” Engelhart said. In Portage County, 37 percent of children under the age of three are not vaccinated. Also, many of those who are considered mentally retarded or developmentally disabled are not vaccinated for medical reasons.

Happy Day School and Hattie Larlham, which both share clients from the mentally disabled community, have been the sites for two small clusters of pertussis this year. Englehart said they were related. Hattie Larlham has vaccinated its staff since the incidents, Engelhart said, and the health department is urging Happy Day School to do the same.

From 2003 to 2004, Ohio more than doubled reported cases of pertussis, according to the CDC. Nationally, the CDC has seen a dramatic increase in pertussis cases in the last two years, says CDC doctor Kristine Kretsinger.

It is difficult to know how much of the increase is because of better awareness or disease activity because the CDC only gets state health departments’ numbers, which can be flawed from misdiagnoses. The CDC does not test all of the cases it records.

But a “good portion” of the increase is because of awareness, says Kretsinger, who is part of the workgroup that reports to the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

She also said a waning vaccination is not irregular; immunity can wane in some diseases.

“We have no reason to think it is a vaccine failure,” she said.

Contact public affairs reporter John Oberlin at [email protected].