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Whooping cough cases on the rise

The Minnesota Department of Health recently released a health alert about the alarming number of pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, cases in Minnesota.

Infants are most at risk for pertussis, although any age can be affected. Vaccination efforts are critical for controlling disease and protecting infants. Pregnant women and those who are in close contact with infants should make it a priority to get their pertussis booster vaccine (Tdap).

With 1,758 cases confirmed by the end of June, the MDH alert states pertussis is at epidemic levels with outbreaks occurring in a number of communities throughout the state. Minnesota is on track to exceed 3,400 cases this year, the highest number of cases seen since the 1940s.

Only 662 cases were reported in the state last year.

While no cases have been reported so far in Hubbard County, people are being encouraged to get the vaccine, especially with school starting in a month.

"We had one case in 2011, but none have been reported so far this year," says Raeann Mayer, St. Joseph's Community Health Manager. The MDH notes that many cases of pertussis are not recognized or reported.

"We, of course, remain committed to surveillance as we do receive visitors to the area this time of year from counties that have experienced high levels of pertussis cases," Mayer said.

Leading the state in the number of pertussis cases are counties clustered in the state's Twin Cities metro area. Hennepin County is the most saturated with 523 reported cases followed by Anoka (276), Wright (126) and Dakota (121) Counties.

"Multiple factors have likely contributed including waning immunity from childhood pertussis vaccines, an imperfect vaccine, increased recognition, better diagnostic testing and increased reporting," the MDH states. Of note is the fact that the protection received from the pertussis vaccine fades over time. Adolescents and adults need a booster even if they were completely vaccinated as children.

Pertussis cases have occurred in all age groups, but are increasing in upper-elementary-aged children, the MDH adds.

"While Tdap booster vaccine for both adolescents and adults is readily available," Mayer said, "improved Tdap coverage is needed to reduce pertussis disease in our state."

Of concern are the recently released Annual Immunization Status Reports that summarize immunization data submitted by public and private schools for the 2011-12 school year.

Mayer noted that in Hubbard County, 97.8 percent of the K-12 students in Laporte, Nevis and Park Rapids schools are protected through the DTP vaccine. That figure is down from 98.6 percent in the 2006-07 school year.

"Obviously, the best defense is the vaccine," said St. Joseph's Community Health nurse Amy Morris. "It's not just kids who should get it. Those around kids - teachers, grandparents, providers, pregnant women."

Symptoms vary depending on your ages and if you've been vaccinated.

Pertussis usually starts with cold-like symptoms and a mild cough. It is usually not suspect until a persistent cough with spasms sets in after one to two weeks.

Vaccination, booster shots, staying away from people with cold symptoms (coughing), staying home if you are sick and seeking treatment when pertussis symptoms first start are ways you can protect yourself and others from pertussis.

See your regular provider if you would like to know more about getting vaccinated for pertussis.

St. Joseph's Community Health "First Thursday" Clinic continues to offer immunizations and health screenings from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month. This clinic is for adults ages 19 and older. No appointment is necessary. Please call 237-5487 if you would like more information.