Vaccine is very effective, but protection fades over time




BURLINGTON – While many county residents spent the days leading up to Christmas welcoming family and finishing last minute shopping, staff from the Alamance County Health Department (ACHD) and the Alamance-Burlington School System (ABSS) spent long days and nights, including Christmas Eve, tediously racing against the clock to contact families whose children may have been exposed to pertussis and call in preventive antibiotics.

Since the first pertussis case linked to B. Everett Jordan Elementary School was identified on December 14, over 600 children and adults were interviewed and prescribed antibiotics.  During the investigation, an additional seven cases were confirmed, with an additional 23 probable cases.

A case labeled as “probable” identifies someone with symptoms which meet the CDC requirements for a person having symptoms of pertussis, but this person hasn’t had laboratory testing or been in close contact with a laboratory confirmed case of pertussis.  Therefore, we will never definitively know if these individuals had pertussis.

As the investigation concludes, health and school system officials want to use this opportunity to teach a valuable lesson.  Although all of the confirmed and probable cases had been vaccinated against pertussis, this recent outbreak illustrates the importance of Tdap vaccination and boosters for children and adults.

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a bacterial infection that often starts with typical cold symptoms (runny nose, low grade fever, and possibly cough) and over 1-2 weeks, usually develops into prolonged bursts of coughing, often with a whooping noise at the end.  The person usually feels well between attacks.

“While we want to prevent discomfort and disease in all of our residents, we especially want to keep pertussis from affecting children less than 12 months old, said Kathleen Shapley-Quinn, MD, ACHD Medical Director.  “Alamance County has been tremendously successful in decreasing our infant mortality rate and it would be absolutely tragic if one or more infants died of pertussis, a preventable disease.”

The Tdap (Tetanus, Diptheria, acellular Pertussis) vaccine is designed for specifically this purpose.  Tdap is mandatory for children to enter the sixth grade, but the health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strongly encourage all adults and children age 11 and older, to receive the vaccine.

For adults planning to have a family, it is especially important to prevent pertussis.  Ultimately, receiving the Tdap vaccine significantly decreases the risk of pertussis in newborns and infants.

With the assistance of a major vaccine manufacturer, the health department offers a program to assist uninsured adults, age 19 and older, with obtaining the Tdap vaccine at no cost.  Eligibility is contingent upon family size and income of less than 200% of the federal poverty level.

For additional information about the Tdap vaccine, the vaccine assistance program, or to schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine, please call the health department at (336) 227-0101.