Upstate doctor suggests students get whooping cough booster - FOX Carolina 21

Upstate doctor suggests students get whooping cough booster

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A child gets a shot at an Upstate doctor's office. (File/FOX Carolina) A child gets a shot at an Upstate doctor's office. (File/FOX Carolina)

It starts like the common cold, with symptoms that include a runny nose and sneezing, then a severe cough sets in.

It's how pertussis, more commonly known as "whooping cough," takes hold of those infected.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, infection rates have skyrocketed. A total of 18,000 cases have been reported so far this year, which is twice as many as the same time last year.

Most children under age six received a series of shots to protect them from pertussis, but that protection wears off in five to 10 years. Older children, teens and adults are more likely to contract the infection and spread it to others, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Some doctors said they are worried the outbreak will get worse as students head back to school, but kids may not be the only ones due for a booster shot.

Teachers have been preparing their classrooms for weeks, and the Greenville County School District said this year they'll be following typical regulations for preventing the spread of disease between students, with frequent hand washing and dozens of bottles of hand sanitizer.

This time of year is especially concerning to the director of infectious disease at the Greenville Children's Hospital, Dr. Robin Lacroix.

"Every few weeks we are diagnosing another child with pertussis in the Greenville community," said Lacroix. "Our concern is when they all get together in a school situation, we're at risk to have big outbreaks."

To combat the problem, DHEC said the state will require all seventh grade students to receive an additional Tdap booster shot in the 2013-2014 school year. The shot includes the vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

"That's to hopefully boost the overall community immunity to pertussis," said Lacroix. "It should bring the number and cases of disease down."

Lacroix said adults and their child should be vaccinated, and the sooner the better.

She said infectious diseases typically follow a cyclical pattern, which may explain the surge in cases. However, some experts say the newer version of the pertussis vaccine may be wearing off sooner than expected, and people aren't aware their doses are no longer effective.

"People may be losing their antibodies sooner, and we have more children at risk that in the past were protected longer," said Lacroix. "It used to last 10 years, so we're now learning that the new vaccines aren't providing that time and protection."

That protection has also faded for many adults who haven't had a vaccine in decades. It's especially deadly if parents of young children, who are far more susceptible to the disease, haven't been vaccinated. They may carry the infection and give it to their own children.

Doctors have said it is now safe to vaccinate pregnant mothers who are in their third trimester.

"This will help protect the mother from getting anything that could spread to the baby, and will give the baby some of those antibodies as well," said Lacroix.  

Not everyone is sold on the vaccine benefits.

Dr. Susan Shelley of Pediatric Associates said she's seen more parents that come into her practice hesitant with questions about vaccines.

"I don't think parents realize that they are doing a great good for their children by vaccinating," said Shelley. "The chances you take of leaving them unprotected compared to the possible side effects are just not comparable."

While all seventh grade students in South Carolina will be required to receive the Tdap booster in 2013, some health professionals suggest getting children in that age range vaccinated now.

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