PLATTSBURGH — Health-care officials are recommending that all adults receive vaccinations against pertussis, as the extremely contagious disease continues to spread across the nation.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a respiratory disease that can be passed easily from person to person. Although it can cause uncomfortable and often lengthy cold-like symptoms in adults, pertussis is most deadly for young infants, who cannot be vaccinated against the disease.
“The lack of adult immunizations, and particularly for pertussis, is a huge problem across the nation,” said Ruth Lucas, public-health nurse for the Clinton County Health Department. “We (the health-care industry) are not doing a good job with immunization rates.
“We’re doing a good job immunizing our children, but we have to do better with adult immunizations.”
Pertussis immunizations are available through the Tdap vaccine, which also protects against tetanus and diphtheria. However, the pertussis vaccine was not readily available in the three-for-one coverage until 2005, meaning that a majority of adults have probably not received the shot, Lucas noted.
“Regular vaccinations help keep the community healthy,” she said. “Having more adults vaccinated protects those who cannot be vaccinated, including babies, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women.
“We really need to move toward a more aggressive approach at how we promote vaccinations, how we can put the pieces together (so more people in the community are vaccinated).”
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More than 50,000 people across the nation die annually from vaccine-preventable disease, Lucas noted. Although blanket immunizations would not eliminate those deaths, the annual number of deaths would drop dramatically, she said.
“How do we get people on board? There are various ways the public can get involved.”
First and foremost, adults should talk with their doctor or health-care provider about what vaccinations are available and if they should receive immunizations or booster shots.
Also, people can access information at www.vaccineinformation.org that spells out what vaccines adults need and how often they are needed.
For instance, adults should be vaccinated with Tdap if they never received a pertussis-containing vaccine or if they have not had at least three tetanus and diphtheria-containing vaccines.
Also, adults should receive a booster if they have not received a tetanus/diphtheria shot within the last 10 years.
The vaccine is especially needed for anyone who has regular contact with an infant.
“The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending ‘cocooning’ or creating a protective web around young infants,” Lucas said. “This should include parents, siblings, household residents, grandparents and anyone who takes care of the baby.”
According to the Immunization Action Coalition, only 8.2 percent of all adults are vaccinated against pertussis. Vaccines for other illnesses are not faring much better. Only 14 percent of the adult population is vaccinated against shingles, and only 20 percent are protected against HPV.
A fairly significant pertussis outbreak occurred in the North Country earlier this year, but numbers are not unusually high presently.
However, in New York state, 1,921 cases were identified as of Aug. 25, compared to 376 cases by Aug. 27 in 2011.
Pertussis epidemics have been identified in both Wisconsin and Washington state.
Clinton County suffered a major outbreak in 2004 that caused problems for several months. Increased use of Tdap vaccines could help prevent that from happening again.
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