Add a booster?


Whooping cough outbreak has officials seeking additional protection :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

photo courtesy of Chicago Department of Public Health Health officials are seeking an additional booster for whooping cough in the wake of a local outbreak of the disease.

Despite vaccinations for the disease, there is a whooping cough outbreak among older children in the north and northwest suburbs that has area health officials concerned and pushing for the federal government to add a booster shot to immunization requirements.

"We probably will be recommending vaccinations against whooping cough for older children and adults," says Dr. Stanford Shulman, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "A booster would be a good idea."

But since the federal approval process for a booster shot could take up to a year, officials are trying to educate people on how to prevent, recognize and treat the disease, which can be fatal to infants yet to be vaccinated.

In young children, whooping cough first appears as a cold without a fever. Its nickname comes from the heavy breath in between coughing fits. The bacterial infection can be treated by antibiotics, which kill the germs but not the symptoms, says Shulman.

Since it is dangerous to infants, Shulman warns to keep babies not yet fully vaccinated away from people with cold symptoms. The cough is less severe in older children and adults, whose symptoms can last as long as four weeks.

Children normally receive five vaccinations against three diseases, including whooping cough, at ages 2, 4, 6 and 15 months, with the final shot between ages 4 and 6 years, says Tammy Leonard of the Illinois Department of Public Health. These tend to wane "three to five years after the last vaccination, and can be completely gone after 12 years of the final inoculation" making older children and adults susceptible, she says.

Parents should make sure all children complete the full five-shot DTaP series that immunizes children for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, the medical name for whooping cough.

Illinois cases have increased from 133 in 2000 to 320 in 2003, according to Leonard. From January to mid-July, more than 40 pertussis cases were reported in suburban Cook County. In addition, 93 cases were reported in McHenry County and 32 cases in Lake County (22 cases are linked to a 37-case outbreak in the Barrington area) since December 2003, according to health officials.

A pharmaceutical company submitted a pertussis booster for Food and Drug Administration approval on June 30. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for a recommendation on that same booster, says Dr. Trudy Murphy, an epidemiologist at the CDC’s National Immunization Program.

If approved, the booster would be added into the diphtheria and tetanus shot given at 11 to 16 years old, "without adding another shot," according to Amanda Foley of GlaxoSmith-Kline pharmaceutical company.

Alissa Calabrese


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