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Area spared from worst of whooping cough

July 27, 2012
The Leader Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - Despite New York state and parts of the nation witnessing a significant increase in whooping-cough cases this year, Fulton and Montgomery counties are seeing only a few cases so far this year.

New York had 722 reported cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, in 2010 and 931 in 2011. So far this year, 1,288 cases have been reported in the state. There have been 187 cases in New York City and 333 on Long Island.

Fulton and Montgomery counties have seen eight cases combined this year. Montgomery County had only one of them.

No cases of pertussis were reported in either county during the first six months of last year.

State Health Department spokesman Peter Constantakes said he doesn't know for certain why there is such a low number in the two local counties, but it may have something to do with vaccinations.

"We've seen an increase in the state, but they're in certain counties," Constantakes said. "It might be vaccination rates. Some adults might get it [whooping cough] but not know. They might have a cough and think it's a regular cough."

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on June 4 the number of cases in the country was up from 10,080 in 2011 to 18,000 so far this year.

The U.S. appears headed for its worst year for whooping cough in more than five decades, with the number of cases rising at an epidemic rate that experts say may reflect a problem with the effectiveness of the vaccine.

The 18,000 cases reported so far this year is more than twice the number seen at this point last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. At this pace, the number for the entire year would be the highest since 1959, when 40,000 illnesses were reported.

Nine children in the country have died this year, and health officials called on adults - especially pregnant women and those who spend time around children - to get a booster shot as soon as possible.

Constantakes said three infants succumbed to the illness in New York last year. He said whooping cough is especially harmful to infants and younger children.

"What the problem is is for the infants who aren't fully developed. Infants are the most affected," he said. "People on other medications, such as chemotherapy, can be affected, too, because they're weakened. The other most susceptible are kids because they don't really have vaccinations until school. And people who get older might not get the booster shot that's recommended."

Pertussis can cause bacterial pneumonia or other complications such as middle ear infection, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, temporary loss of consciousness, dehydration, seizures, a brain disorder or apnea.

Immunity from vaccinations decrease from five to 10 years. The state Health Department suggests citizens get vaccinations or boosters, especially in families with children younger than 1.

Constantakes said vaccinations usually are covered by health insurance, but if they aren't, he suggests contacting local health departments for special clinics.

The Fulton County Department of Public Health can be reached at 736-5720, and the Montgomery Public Health Department can be reached at 853-3531.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer recently called on health officials to provide free vaccinations.

The senator urged the federal government to work with health officials in every state to make sure adults get vaccinated for free if they haven't been since age 18.

Schumer pointed out the cough is contagious and especially dangerous if transmitted to young children.

Whooping cough was once a terrible menace to U.S. children, with hundreds of thousands of cases reported annually. Then a vaccine drove cases down, and the illness became thought of as rare and even antiquated. But it never totally disappeared.

What's a parent to do? Some advice from experts:

FIRST STEP: Make sure your child is up to date on vaccination against pertussis. There are five doses, with the first shot at age 2 months and the last between 4 and 6 years. A booster shot is recommended around 11 or 12. It's part of routine childhood shots that also protect against diphtheria and tetanus.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Adults who are around kids should get a whooping cough booster shot so that they don't spread it to young children, who are the most vulnerable to whooping cough.

VACCINE NOT PERFECT: No vaccine is 100 percent effective, and its ability to fend off infections wanes as years pass.

WATCH FOR SYMPTOMS: The illness typically starts with cold-like symptoms that can include a runny nose, congestion, low-grade fever and a mild cough. Infants may have a pause in breathing, called apnea. The ?CDC advises parents to see a doctor if they or their children develop prolonged or severe coughing fits, vomiting and exhaustion.

The "whooping cough" name comes from the sound children make as they gasp for breath. The disease is spread through coughing or sneezing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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