News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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December 4, 2010

Even those fully vaccinated can still get whooping cough, health official says

TERRE HAUTE — Those fully vaccinated for whooping cough can still get the disease, says an epidemiologist with the Indiana State Department of Health.

“We do see cases of kids appropriately vaccinated who still get the disease,” said Angie Cierzniewski, a state vaccine preventable disease epidemiologist.

“Some vaccines we think of as rockstars — they work exceptionally well and it’s almost unheard of to get the disease once a person is vaccinated,” she said, giving the example of the vaccine for measles.

The pertussis vaccine “is not a rockstar,” she said. It’s possible to be fully vaccinated and get the disease, she said. Typically, the disease would be less severe if the person is fully vaccinated.

A Clay County woman knows first-hand that a pertussis vaccination doesn’t eliminate the possibility of someone getting pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

The woman, who did not want her name used, said four children in her family became infected with the disease, and the child that first developed it — her 4-year-old — did have the required doses for her age.

She said two of her children had the required number of doses, a 2-year-old was not vaccinated because of low immunity and other reasons and the oldest, an 8-year-old, was lacking one of the required doses of the vaccination.

The primary series of whooping cough vaccinations calls for five doses, recommended at two months, four months, six months, 15 through 18 months and the last one before kindergarten (four to six years of age), Cierzniewski said.

The Clay County woman said health authorities had incorrect information that her children contracted the disease because they were not immunized. She wants people to realize they can contract the disease even if they are immunized. “I feel the public may have a false sense of security,” she said.

None of her children required hospitalization, and the entire family has been treated with antibiotics, she said.

The 4-year-old, who first became infected in mid-September, didn’t stop coughing until early November, she said. She suspected the child had pertussis because the cough continued for so long and “she was coughing so hard she would throw up.”

The 8-year-old would cough so hard “her face would turn purple” and she had trouble breathing.

According to Cierzniewski, health authorities now realize that protection from the pertussis vaccination wanes over time. “Starting 5 to 10 years after the last dose, protection from pertussis tends to decrease,” she said.

The state now mandates a pertussis booster for students in grades 6-12, one dose of Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) given on or after the 10th birthday.

“We’re requiring that to help with waning protection,” Cierzniewski said.

While it isn’t 100 percent effective, the pertussis vaccine is important, she said. The more people who are vaccinated, the less the disease will be spread to those who can’t get vaccinated, including the very young (under two months) and those who can’t be vaccinated for health reasons, she said.

Children under age 1 are at highest risk for hospitalization and death, Cierzniewski said.

Adults, particularly those who will be around infants, are encouraged to get pertussis boosters, she said.

Instead of tetanus boosters, which are recommended every 10 years, the state Department of Health now recommends that adults get a Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), she said. “We recommend replacing the next tetanus shot with Tdap.”

The Centers for Disease Control are looking at ways to improve the pertussis vaccine, she said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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