Vermont Health Commissioner Harry Chen say an epidemic of pertussis, or whooping cough, has hit the state and Chen wants everyone over the age of 19 to get a special booster shot in the coming weeks.
Dr. Chen describes pertussis as a serious infectious disease that’s easily spread from person to person.
He says 522 cases have been reported in Vermont in 2012 and this represents a huge increase from just a year ago. Most of the cases are individuals between the age of 10 and 14 but the list includes 20 babies and 6 of these infants had to be hospitalized.
Chen says it’s critical for the state to take strong steps to deal with this epidemic now.
"These are epidemic numbers for our small state. We’re not alone in this however other states are also seeing big numbers," says Chen. "Despite our best efforts to control the spread of disease this is more than ten times the number of cases we saw this time last year. More and more cases are being reported daily to the Health Department in every county."
State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso says it’s recommended that children get a series of four pertussis vaccinations before they turn one and a half. But she says the effectiveness of these vaccines declines over a period of years.
"The majority of pertussis cases in Vermont during this outbreak are in vaccinated children and it’s well known that the immunity from the vaccine or from natural disease does wane or dissipate over time and so fully vaccinated people can get pertussis" Kelso says.
Dr. Lewis First is Chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen. He says it’s largely the state’s adult population who are spreading this disease to children.
"It’s really the adult population and the teenage populations that get older past 5 years after that 11-12 booster that we belief that are responsible for spreading the whooping cough that eventually gets to the youngest children who are most at risk."
That’s why State Epidemiologist Kelso wants all adults who have not had a combination tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis shot, in the past few years, to get one now. It’s also known as a t-dap shot.
"We’re strongly encouraging vaccinations for all Vermonters and people who are vaccinated are very likely to have less severe illness and be less likely to transmit pertussis to people around them,"Kelso says.
The Health Department will offer free vaccinations at their 12 district offices next Wednesday for anyone who is unable to get a shot from their primary care physician.