Oklahoma health officials are once again concerned about an outbreak of whooping cough, or pertussis and urges immunizations for small children, especially babies, and other youngsters.

Infants are at greatest risk, even though the affliction can affect all ages, said Terri Salisbury, Woodward County Health Department administrative director.

So far, Oklahoma has recorded 34 cases of whooping cough as of June 30, according to the state department of health and that's below the normal average of 100 cases in a year. There were 69 persons affected in 2011 (ok.gov/health).

The Kansas Department of Health (kdheks.gov) is reporting 56 pertussis cases so far this year, after 52 in all of 2011.

In Texas, there are more than 500 infections currently in 2012, after about the same number for all of 2011, according to the state department of health services (dshs.state.tx.us/idcu/disease/pertussis).

SYMPTOMS AND TREATMENTS

Officials say indications are pertussis infections start by resembling a cold, then as the illness progresses, it is highlighted by a dry, hacking cough, indicated by the whooping sound.

A Woodward family physician, Dr. Kathyrn Ray, said there are currently no known local cases.

"In the state, 75 percent of the cases are in patients younger than age 1," she said, spotlighting the need for early vaccinations.

Ray said the main treatment for pertussis is antibiotics and fluids.

IMPORTANT WAY TO PROTECT

"The best way to prevent whooping cough in children and babies younger than 12 months of age is to surround them with persons who have been vaccinated against the disease," Salisbury said. "Make sure all the people in contact with the child have received a dose of Tdap or DTap vaccine according to the recommended schedule."

She said that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, parents, brothers, sisters and others who live in the house with the little children are the source for 75 to 83 percent of whooping cough cases in infants younger than age 1. Grandparents are responsible for 6 to 8 percent of whooping cough infections.

STARTS WITH VACCINATIONS

"Everyone who has or will have contact with babies should be vaccinated," Salisbury said.

They include:

- Children at 2, 4, 6 and 12 to 18 months old and at 4 to 6 years old.

- Pregnant women past 20 weeks of gestation.

- Women not vaccinated during their pregnancy should get a Tdap inoculation immediately after giving birth.

- Child care workers.

- Health care personnel, including those employed in clinics and hospitals.

- All family members/relatives.

Salisbury said a DTap shot, comprised of diptheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccine, is used for those 6 years old or younger. The Tdap inoculation is recommended for children over age 6 who have not completed the aforementioned DTap series, and for youngsters beginning at 11 years old, and for adults.

"If an adult or someone age 11 or older has not gotten a dose of Tdap, they should receive a shot at least 2 weeks before they anticipate having contact with a baby," Salisbury said.

FIGHTING A CYCLE OF INFECTIONS

Lanette Kerry, state department of health district nurse, said pertussis is a cyclical disease, and she doesn't think it will ever be totally eliminated.

"There's been a lot of awareness raised about it in Oklahoma, and that's why I think the number of cases is relatively low," she said.

"As of 2011, (the state is) requiring that students entering the 7th grade receive the booster shots," added Kerry.

She said Tdap inoculations were given after the April tornado, and as a result, "I think Woodward County has very good coverage (for pertussis/tetanus vaccinations)."

Persons who may have been injured by handling storm debris were protected from contracting tetanus by receiving the shots.

Since she doesn't think whooping cough will ever go away, "that's why we (health professionals) work so hard to try and control it."

The Woodward County Health Department has DTap and Tdap available for all ages, Salisbury said. Call (580) 256-6416 for more information.

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