The whooping-cough epidemic that has been sweeping Colorado for the past two years has reached Pitkin County, with the first case reported this week.
Liz Stark, director of Pitkin County Community Health Services, wouldn’t reveal the age or exact location for the pertussis diagnosis, but she said infants are particularly susceptible to the disease. She urged pregnant women, adolescents, the elderly and anyone who is in close proximity of infants and children to get vaccinated.
“It’s been skirting us,” Stark said, noting that the epidemic is very real statewide. “Primarily, it’s been on the Front Range, although we have seen some in Garfield County.”
Carrie Godes, public health educator for Garfield County, said that while Garfield County saw zero cases in 2011 and 2012, there have been 26 cases of pertussis reported this year. Ages of those affected range from 1 to 38, with schoolchildren substantially more affected than any other group. There have been no deaths, though at least one of the infected was hospitalized.
“We’re still in that epidemic state,” Godes said, noting that her department is always under the assumption that many cases go unreported. “It’s really contagious. And oftentimes, people will only experience mild cold-like symptoms, but they in fact have pertussis, and they’re the ones spreading it to the more vulnerable populations.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health reported 1,116 cases of pertussis in the first 10 months of 2013, and that number is expected to rise. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that 1 in 100 infants who contract pertussis dies, and more than half are hospitalized.
“I think over the spring and summer, the state Health Department had hoped that they would see the rates drop in some kind of a cycle,” Stark said. “But they have not. They’ve seen rates continue or even increase over the fall months.
“So it’s very real. Pitkin County has just been lucky that we haven’t had any cases until now, with this one. We don’t want an outbreak, so we’re encouraging people to be vaccinated.”
Pertussis is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract that spreads easily through the air in droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. The illness often starts with cold-like symptoms, including sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever and a mild cough. The cough becomes more severe during the first week or two and often is characterized by episodes of coughing fits, followed by a high-pitched inhale that sounds like a “whoop.” The cough may last for a couple of months and is more frequent at night. In adults and adolescents, the disease is milder.
Vaccines are available by appointment at Community Health Services in Aspen, located in the Schultz Health and Human Services Building across from Aspen Valley Hospital on Castle Creek Road. Cost is $20. Call 970-920-5420 to make an appointment.
The vaccine for pertussis is given in combination with diphtheria and tetanus. Immunization authorities routinely recommend that five doses of DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine be given — one each at 2, 4 and 6 months old, one between 15 and 18 months old and one between 4 and 6 years old — and that a single dose of a booster vaccine called Tdap be administered at 11 to 12 years old.