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Guest column/Proper immunizations protect children, community

August 5, 2012

As a member of the Steubenville Board of Health and a concerned grandfather and physician, I feel compelled to write a letter addressing a public health issue. I want to remind the community about the importance of staying current on both childhood and adult vaccinations. Whooping cough (pertussis) has been in the news a lot recently, as the number of people infected with this serious disease has risen dramatically in 2012. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the number of cases could reach the highest level in more than 50 years.

My family and I had the misfortune of personally knowing a family whose healthy infant daughter died in May as a result of pertussis. It has been heartbreaking for everyone and obviously their family. The parents of this infant chose not to follow the recommended childhood immunization schedule to protect their children against the various vaccine-preventable diseases, including pertussis. They did not do so out of ignorance. They thought they were doing the right thing for their children. Now they know for sure that this was not the case. It is a stark reminder for everyone that not following the recommended schedule has consequences.

Whooping cough (pertussis) is a very contagious disease. The bacteria are primarily spread by direct contact with the discharges from the nose and throat of an infected person. Lack of protection against pertussis poses a serious health risk for infants, children, adolescents and adults. It is especially dangerous for infants, as babies younger than 12 months are most at risk for severe illness, hospitalization and death.

In recent years, Ohio has seen a significant increase in pertussis cases. In 2009, the state health department received reports of 1,102 cases.

In 2010, there were 1,851 cases reported. In both 2010 and 2011, the Steubenville Health Department investigated four cases of pertussis. Thus far in 2012, there have been three cases reported and investigated by the Steubenville Health Department.

Unfortunately, there has been widespread concern and controversy about the need for childhood vaccinations. Many parents have the mindset that vaccines cause disease and that natural immunity is better and safer than vaccinations. Not vaccinating your child has consequences. When children don't receive vaccinations, it endangers their health and the health of others. There is a direct correlation between high vaccine rates within a community and low disease prevalence.

The Ohio Department of Health is working with Ohio pediatricians and birthing hospitals and is recommending a new strategy to protect infants against pertussis. "Cocooning" (vaccinating close contacts of infants less than 12 months of age with the Tdap booster) is the strategy the state is supporting as the means to reduce the risk of transmission of pertussis to infants.

So what can you do to help stop this outbreak and protect the lives of vulnerable infants in our community? Keep your kids current on their immunizations and make sure we, as adults, are current, too. The CDC says that though 95 percent of toddlers are vaccinated against this disease, only 8.2 percent of adults are, and they are the ones most likely to infect babies.

Who needs a Tdap booster? Kids ages 11-18 need a booster as well as adults - especially those who are close contacts of infants younger than 12 months (parents, aunts/uncles, siblings, grandparents and child care providers.) Pregnant women who have not been previously vaccinated with Tdap should get one dose of Tdap after 20 weeks gestation and preferably in the third trimester. Tdap boosters are available from your doctor, the Steubenville Health Department and at many area drugstores.

Let's help improve the health of our community and protect our children and ourselves from vaccine-preventable diseases, including pertussis. We can all make a difference.

(Macedonia is a member of the Steubenville Board of Health.)

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