Cases of pertussis reported in Fort Defiance

By Glenda Rae Davis
Navajo Times

FORT DEFIANCE, March 8, 2012

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C over your mouth when you cough, is a common lesson of many parents and it becomes more important with a respiratory infection's arrival on the reservation.

Four confirmed cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, were reported at Tsehootsooi Medical Center in Fort Defiance starting Feb. 29.

Five confirmed cases were reported in Sanders, Ariz.

Mark Creek, a public health nurse at the hospital, said that the infection is "not necessarily dangerous to adults but (adults) can carry the infection to children. That's really the population that is at risk."

Pertussis is a contagious disease caused by the bacteria bordetella pertussis, which spreads through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs, or sneezes.

Creek adds, "You don't get pertussis from the infected person touching you - it's an airborne illness."

Reported cases of pertussis vary from year to year and tend to peak every three to four years, said Creek.

In 2010, across the U.S. 27,550 cases of pertussis were reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website. 27 deaths were reported and of these 25 were children younger than one year old.

CDC's website also states that since the 1980s, the number of cases has increased. In 2010 the increase was more apparent among 7- to 10-year-old children. This new trend reinforces the need for routine recommended vaccines and boosters.

"The best way to increase your chances of not getting pertussis is to make sure you are current on your shots," Creek said.

All children are required to receive the vaccine, called DTaP, at ages two months, four months, six months, and 4 to 6 years of age. At 10 to 12 years of age, a TDaP is administered. After this people are encouraged to receive a booster, named TD, every 10 years.

The DTaP vaccine and TDaP booster are shots that help prevent pertussis and two other serious diseases called diphtheria and tetanus.

"If your child is in school they have the shot. It's required before enrollment in any school," said Creek. "Even if you have the shot there's still a slight chance that you will get it but the shot increases your chances of not getting it."

Symptoms of pertussis include a cough lasting at least two weeks and vomiting caused by aggressive coughing.

The name "whooping cough" comes from the high-pitched noise that is made when the infected individual gasps for air after a fit of coughing, said Creek.

Additionally, a runny or stuffy nose and sneezing can accompany these symptoms.

Pertussis can run its course in about 21 days and people who have diabetes or other health issues are more at risk for getting it. This is the result of their bodies reduced ability to fight infections.

When diagnosed the infected person receives antibiotics, called azithromycin, for five days. During this time it is important for the patient to isolate himself or herself to decrease the possibility of the spread of the infection.

The hospital will also ask that anyone in direct contact with the individual receive antibiotics as well. Also, anyone who is in contact with these individuals must in turn receive the antibiotic too.

Creek adds, "But just because you're coughing it doesn't mean you have pertussis. We do not want to cause a panic but it is an urgent matter."

Creek said he wants the community to understand that this infection can become a huge problem quickly but proper care of the infected individuals and their counterparts are underway and that others within the community need to make sure all their shots are current.

"If you have any of the symptoms but are not sure where you got the cough from you need to get it checked out," said Creek.

He also stressed the importance of isolation.

"If you are coughing or have any cold-like symptoms then it's recommended that you don't go to school or work," he said. "Make sure to see a doctor for the symptoms.'

Currently TMC has announcements airing on KTNN radio, sent letters to families whose kids attend schools in Fort Defiance and signs have been posted at chapters houses and local businesses.

TMC has also held discussions and question-and-answer sessions at schools in Fort Defiance, as well as begun communication with the school district's board members.

Information: Mark Creek, 928-729-8882 or visit your local medical center.