Monday Medical: Flu, pertussis vaccines recommended

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Every flu season there is a lot of talk about the importance of getting immunized to protect ourselves and others vulnerable to getting sick from the flu.

There is renewed emphasis this year not just on protecting against flu, but also against whooping cough, or pertussis, a highly contagious infection resurging in Colorado and other states.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, more than 1,260 cases have been reported in our state during the past year. Two years ago, there were only 250 cases.

Pertussis is caused by bacteria that can live in the respiratory tract. It starts off with cold-like symptoms and can progress into a violent long-lasting cough. Infants have the highest risk of getting the disease, which can make it very difficult for them to breathe and can result in death.

Vaccines help prevent and reduce the disease’s severity if they are up to date. The pertussis vaccine is in the DTaP vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) for children. Infants typically receive three doses of the vaccine in their first six months. They are most vulnerable before they reach optimal immunity with the third dose. Immunity wears off, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children receive DTaP boosters at 15 to 18 months and 4 to 6 years old.

For older children and adults, a weaker form of the pertussis vaccine has been added to the tetanus diphtheria booster. Tdap is required for children 11 to 12 years old entering sixth grade. Adolescents or adults who didn’t get Tdap or aren’t sure, are recommended to receive a dose, especially if they are pregnant or will be caring for or spending time near an infant.

Tdap can be substituted for a tetanus booster shot (recommended every 10 years), but it’s not necessary to wait for your next regular tetanus booster before getting the Tdap vaccine. Get the age-appropriate vaccine (DTap or Tdap) at least two weeks before being near an infant.

A person still can get sick from pertussis if they have been vaccinated; however, they are less likely to have severe symptoms. It’s important for a person with a long term, persistent cough to seek medical attention because antibiotics — if taken early — can help reduce the severity of infection and help prevent it from spreading.

The CDC recommends everyone age 6 months and older get immunized each year against the flu. It is especially important to get the flu vaccine if you are pregnant, 65 or older or have an underlying health condition. Young children and people in contact with high-risk groups also are urged to get immunized.

Allergic reactions or serious health problems from vaccines are very rare. Consult your doctor before getting a vaccine if you are allergic to chicken eggs, have had a severe reaction to a vaccine in the past, have had a moderate to severe illness with a fever or have had Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Take care when researching vaccine safety. Consult reputable sources with information based on facts. These include the American Academy of Pediatrics, www.aap.org, Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University, www.vaccinesafety.edu, and the CDC, www.cdc.gov.

The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and most primary care providers have flu and pertussis vaccines available. Drop-in vaccination clinics for all ages are from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursdays at the Steamboat Springs VNA and from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through November at Steamboat Springs High School. For more information, visit www.nwcovna.org or call 970-879-1632.

Also read a story about a local family’s battle with pertussis at www.nwcovna.org/stories.php.

Tamera Manzanares is a community outreach specialist for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. She can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org.

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