Three months ago, federal health officials warned of a dramatic rise in the number of whooping cough cases nationwide, but El Paso County seemed to be in a cocoon.
“The data locally is not showing a significant trend change,” Jill Law, director of El Paso County Public Health, said in July.
Now that school has started, it’s a different story. In September, the county health department recorded 16 cases. It’s not a huge number, but it equals the number of cases reported for the first half of 2012. As of Oct. 10, there were 49 confirmed cases of whooping cough, more than twice the number reported for all of 2010.
Faced with an upward trend in pertussis cases, local doctors and public health officials are urging adolescents and adults to get vaccinated, particularly if they’re around infants. Babies are at greater risk of dying from whopping cough, and about 57 percent of those younger than 1 have to be hospitalized. So the idea is to immunize the people around the babies — a concept known as “cocooning.”
“The whole interest in the vaccine is to stop the transmission to infants,” said Bill Letson, medical director for El Paso County Public Health. “In this midst of this large outbreak, that’s our focus.”
Parents who follow immunization recommendations will get their babies a vaccine know as DTaP at ages 2, 4 and 6 months of age. It takes all three shots for the baby to attain maximum immunity, and there are boosters as the child gets older, with the last one taking place around age 6.
But the DTaP doesn’t last forever, so a similar shot with a different composition — the Tdap — is recommended for adults who haven’t received it. It’s also recommended for 11-year-olds.
To give the immunization effort a booster shot of its own, the health department, the Colorado Springs Fire Department, Peak Vista Community Health Clinics and the Pikes Peak Flu & Immunization Coalition have partnered to offer the Tdap shot to adults who work with toddlers and infants, especially those who provide child care in their homes. The goal is to get 1,000 people immunized when the last clinic is held in December.
Last Monday, the El Paso County Board of Health approved a contract to receive a one-time infusion of about $50,000 in federal funds to aid in the fight against pertussis.
The money can’t be used to buy vaccine, but the health department said it can be used to offset the cost of the vaccination clinics.
“This is a real blessing,” Law said.