© Khamidulin | Dreamstime.com
Start the New Year with a promise to keep your child’s vaccinations up-to-date. Why? Because vaccinations help keep kids from getting childhood illnesses that in previous generations were debilitating and sometimes even deadly. In fact, there’s been an increase in a common childhood illness that had all but disappeared until recently – whooping cough.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, is the most common vaccine-preventable disease in the U.S. It is caused by the pertussis bacteria that infects your lungs and respiratory system. It’s not unlike the common cold: sneezing, runny nose, coughing, and a slight fever. But after a week, the cough becomes more severe, making it difficult to breathe. When kids cough a lot, they make a “whoop” sound as they try to catch their breath. Hence, the name whooping cough.
Why is whooping cough on the rise?
More than 48,000 Americans were diagnosed with whooping cough in 2012, a figure that represents a 50-year high. Why the sudden increase? Doctors point to several factors. Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital Pediatrician-in-Chief Dr. John M. McCullers notes that the vaccine given to prevent whooping cough wanes after 10 years, roughly when children enter their teens. If parents haven’t made sure that kids receive the required booster shots, they can become more susceptible.
A recent study also indicates that children between the ages of 3 and 36 months are likely under-vaccinated. During those early months, your child should receive four doses of a pertussis-containing vaccine. If he doesn’t, he can be at-risk.
“Adults can carry this disease and vulnerable kids pick it up,” notes McCullers. Whooping cough can amount to a bad cough and cold for adults. But for children, particularly those under the age of 1, pertussis can be far more dangerous. McCullers says 1 in 100 children become hospitalized and of those, 25 percent die. Whooping cough is most critical for children under the age of 6 months, those with compromised immune systems, and others who may be unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons.
Another part of the equation is those parents who have refused to have their children vaccinated at all. Whooping cough has resurfaced in a number of communities in California where low immunization rates are prevalent. Parents who refuse vaccines leave their children at greater risk for illness.
Nationwide, 90 to 93 percent of kids receive most of their vaccinations. And thankfully, Memphis has had only a few reported cases of pertussis. But to keep your child — and our community healthy — get vaccinated. • To learn more about vaccinations, go to kidshealth.org
Watch for the flu
Now that students have returned to school, the flu is likely to follow. Typically, this illness spikes in mid-January, states McCullers. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue.To keep your child healthy, keep germs at bay. • Wash hands with warm soap and water after going to the bathroom or blowing your nose. Use hand sanitizer when you can’t wash. • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, or use the crook of your elbow. • Prevent the spread of flu germs by keeping sick kids at home. If a fever of 100 degrees or greater is present, stay home until 24 hours have passed fever-free (without the use of medications).