The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 2, 2012

Pertussis protection urged

Randy Griffith
rgriffith@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — Spreading holiday cheer at Christmas gatherings and family events can also spread the risk of colds, flu and other illnesses.

In addition to the usual precautions about frequent hand-washing, getting flu shots and taking precautions with holiday food, doctors this year are recommending an extra gift for adults to give themselves to protect the youngest family members:

A tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster, or TDaP.

The shot protects adults from spreading the resurging childhood disease of pertussis, also called whooping cough.

Across the state, there have been 1,399 confirmed and 250 probable cases reported through Nov. 9. Last year, there were just 459 confirmed and 166 probable cases in the same time period.

Cambria County has reported 30 cases of pertussis this year.

“I have seen an increased number of pertussis cases over the past year, but many probably go undetected,” Dr. Richard Wozniak of Johnstown said.

Wozniak is a family medicine specialist and medical director for Memorial Medical Center’s graduate medical education program.

In adults, symptoms may seem like a bad cold or persistent cough, he said.

“Those people may not seek medical care,” Wozniak said.

The danger comes in passing the pertussis bacteria to infants who have not received their full regimen of baby shots, infectious disease specialist Dr. Louis Schenfeld said.

“Infants are the ones who get really sick with it,” Schenfeld said.

The complications for infants can be life-threatening, spokeswoman Kait Gillis of the state Health Department said.

“One in four babies who get pertussis will get pneumonia,” Gillis said.

Two thirds will have apnea, or breathing interruptions, and about one or two out of 100 will die, she said.

Children get five doses of pertussis vaccine as part of their childhood immunizations required for school. For children, it is included in the DTaP, or diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis shot.

Adults normally have gotten tetanus boosters every 10 years, or when they have an injury. But those shots have not always included pertussis, which had become quite rare, doctors said.

Now family doctors should be asking patients about their pertussis boosters, especially if they are parents or have contact with infants, Schenfeld said, citing medical groups’ new recommendations.

Pregnant women can get the vaccine in the late second trimester or third trimester to protect herself and her baby, Wozniak said.

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