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Taking aim at whooping cough

Published: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 3:14 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 3:28 p.m. CST

Whooping cough cases continue to increase, and the state is taking aim at students to help slow the spread.

“We’ve seen an increase in pertussis, or whooping cough, in Illinois during the last six years,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck. “Medical experts have found whooping cough has been on the rise in pre-teens and teens, indicating a waning immunity from infant and childhood immunizations.”

To combat the rise, last year Illinois required sixth- and ninth-grade students to receive the Tdap vaccine, an immunization against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. For the 2013-14 school year, the state is expanding this prevention effort and requiring all sixth- through 12th-grade students to receive a Tdap booster shot.

The Illinois State Board of Health recently approved recommendations from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and the Immunization Advisory Committee for the change.

Students must either show proof of having received this vaccination, must have an appointment to get the vaccine or have an approved medical or religious exemption on file. Students who do not meet one of these three conditions by Oct. 15 will not be allowed to attend school until they do.

For sixth- and ninth-grade students who received the Tdap vaccine last year or previously, they do not need to receive another vaccine but only show proof of having received it before.

Local schools are already preparing for the new requirement.

Princeton Elementary School nurse Sue Cater said the schools will send notes home with the report cards in March informing parents about the clinics that will be conducted by the Bureau/Putnam County Health Department. The health department will conduct a clinic at Logan Junior High on April 12 for the seventh- and eighth-graders, and at Reagan Middle School for the for the fifth-graders April 19.

Cater said all of the sixth-graders received the shot last year, and it’s important for everyone to receive the immunization.

“Particularly to protect others, like babies the students could be around,” Cater said. “It’s a very severe illness in an infant who hasn’t been immunized.”

Cater said students can also receive the shot at the health department or doctor’s office, but the process is very efficient when done at the school.

In Ohio, Superintendent Sharon Sweger said the school nurse checks all students’ medical records annually to ensure students are in compliance with the state board regulations.

“In the spring, prior to the end of school, a letter will be sent home for those in need of this vaccine, to allow time to schedule their appointments over the summer,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, during 2012, increased pertussis cases or outbreaks were reported in a majority of states. As of Jan. 10, 49 states and Washington, D.C., reported increases in disease in 2012 compared with 2011. More than 41,000 cases of pertussis were reported to CDC during 2012, including 18 pertussis-related deaths. The majority of deaths continue to occur among infants younger than 3 months of age. The incidence rate of pertussis among infants exceeds that of all other age groups. The second highest rates of disease are observed among children 7 through 10 years old. Rates are also increased in adolescents 13 and 14 years of age.

Nationally, the most serious problem is in Wisconsin, with a rate almost eight times the national average. Iowa also has an increased rate of almost four times the national average. Illinois is ranked 18th with a rate slightly above the national average.

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