Parents urged to immunize children as whooping cough increases

Parents urged to immunize children as whooping cough increases The South Dakota Department of Health is urging parents to make sure their children are up to date on their pertussis vaccinations.

The state is seeing an increase in cases, 25 so far this year compared to seven in 2003. Neighboring North Dakota is experiencing a severe outbreak of pertussis, with 621 cases reported.

"The biggest danger with pertussis is to very young children," said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist for the department. "We can't emphasize enough how important it is for parents to get their children immunized to protect them from this disease."

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a very contagious disease of the respiratory tract. It is caused by a bacteria (Bordetella pertussis) that is found in the mouth, nose and throat of an infected person.

Dr. Kightlinger said initial symptoms resemble a common cold, including sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough. Within two weeks, the cough becomes more severe and is characterized by episodes of numerous rapid coughs followed by a crowing or high pitched whoop. A thick, clear mucus may be discharged. These episodes may recur for one to two months, and are more frequent at night.

While pertussis can occur at any age, it is most severe in babies under 6 months old,

especially in preterm and unvaccinated infants. Current recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices call for children to receive doses of pertussis vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years.

Because immunity from vaccination wanes, teenagers and adults who were vaccinated as children can still acquire and transmit pertussis. Several of South Dakota's cases are among unimmunized children and among teenagers whose immunization protection may have waned. Thus, parents are also encouraged to watch for the symptoms of pertussis and seek medical attention if they occur.

Parents who need to have a child vaccinated can contact one of the vaccine provid-

ers listed on the department

Web site, Address/vacmap.htm. More information about pertussis is also available on the department Web site at us/doh/Pubs/pertuss.htm.

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