Pertussis Outbreak Causes Concern

Health department looks into pertussis concerns

By Kathy Hanks The Hutchinson News khanks@hutchnews.com | Posted: Monday, May 18, 2015 7:15 pm

 

The Reno County Health Department is investigating a possible outbreak of pertussis after three cases were reported at both Hutchinson High School and Faris Elementary School in recent weeks.

The health department is awaiting confirmation, said Ivonne Rivera-Newberry, assistant director of clinical operations.

While an outbreak is considered more cases than expected, Rivera-Newberry said each disease has its own definition of what is considered an outbreak.

“With pertussis, an outbreak is defined as two cases that are clustered in time, such as cases occurring within 42 days of each other, and in one building where transmission is suspected to have occurred,” said Rivera-Newberry.

She stressed the cases are still under investigation, but added it was important that those with a cough that persists for more than two weeks see their health care provider to rule out pertussis.

Also known as whooping cough, the highly contagious bacterial infection can be fatal in infants less than one year of age. Pertussis was the cause of death of an infant and left five people ill earlier this year in Barton County.

“It’s frightening,” said Dr. Ellen Losew, a pediatrician at the Hutchinson Clinic. “We have a lot of young patients too young to receive their immunization.” For those infants less than six months of age, there is a 20 to 25 percent chance of life-threatening complications if they come down with the infection.

Not vaccinating is dangerous, Losew said, because it threatens what is known as “herd immunity.” If enough children are vaccinated, the whole population is protected. But if even a small number of children aren’t getting their shots, the immunity rate of the entire community can drop below safe levels.

Because of a drop in vaccination rates, Losew said there are now outbreaks of various vaccine-preventable diseases.

She sees cases of pertussis every year in small bits, perhaps one or two a year in the 12 years she has been practicing medicine in Hutchinson.

“It happens. But certainly the immunization rates not being as high as they should be, we will continue to see more outbreaks,” Losew said.

While the state’s immunization rate isn’t drastically low compared to states like Minnesota, California, Oregon or Colorado, Losew wants people to understand the importance of being vaccinated.

“We need to get people protected and covered,” she said. Being vaccinated is safer and more effective than not being vaccinated. “I would rather take a 92 percent chance of being protected over zero.”

“Heart attack treatment is not 100 percent effective,”Losew said. “But someone goes into the ER and accepts treatment for a heart attack because it has the potential to save a life. “

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the state’s children are 86 percent or above for the standard vaccination coverage at kindergarten, and 81 percent complete at school entry. Losew says that’s not great. It needs to be higher.

The KDHE recommends every adult should have one dose of Tdap (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis adult vaccine) and pregnant women should get a Tdap with each pregnancy. Children should receive DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis childhood vaccine) at 2, 4, 6, 12 and 18 months, and 4 to 6 years of age.

Meanwhile, symptoms generally appear 7 to 21 days after exposure to pertussis, and usually start out with a cold or flu-like symptoms including a runny nose, sneezing, fever and cough which lasts one to two weeks. Symptoms worsen over time and the cough becomes more severe. But not everyone makes the whooping sound. A complication of pertussis is pneumonia.