An increase in whooping cough cases in Colorado and Arizona has local health officials on alert.
“It hasn’t happened here, but we want to prevent any outbreaks, so immunizations are important as they always are,” said Lori Cooper, director of the Montezuma County Health Department. “In a teenager, it can manifest as a bad cough. The younger the child, the more severe the illness.”
Last year, Colorado reported 1,407 cases of whooping cough or pertussis, the highest in 64 years. In Arizona, officials are reporting a 300 percent increase in reported cases in the last several years, with one outbreak centered around Colorado City, near the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The highly contagious disease can cause disability or death. Boosters are recommended for teens and adults.
Students could be denied enrollment without an updated shot registry, said Sue Ciccia, nurse director for Re-1 schools in Cortez.
“We work with families, and give them 14 days to set up an appointment for shots they may be missing for their kids,” Ciccia said.
Any new student needs to bring in a shot record of some kind, or they can not enroll.
“It does not have to be complete. The school nurses evaluate them and see what may be lacking and then give them a window to get up to compliance,” she said. “Returning kids in our district, we already have their records and they have been notified of anything lacking.”
Kindergarten students also need to bring in a shot record, even if they have attended the district preschool.
A change this year requires sixth-graders have to have Tdap booster shot, which combines tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines. The immunization is especially important given the resurgence of whooping cough in Colorado and the United States.
Also new this year is that sixth-graders need to have a chicken pox booster.
“It was grandfathered in six years ago, so next year seventh-graders will be required to have the two chicken pox shots,” Ciccia said.
School nurses encourage the parents of seniors to let them know if they want a college immunization certificate. College-bound students and those entering the military will be required to present a record of immunizations.
“All colleges will want to know if incoming freshmen have had the MMR shot, which is measles, mumps, and rubella, and some want additional information,” she said.
Health officials also encourage students getting ready to graduate to get the meningococcal vaccine, which protects young adults in barrack or dormitory situations where people are living in close quarters.
Immunizations required for school are available from a variety of health care providers, including the local health department and local physicians’ offices. Children may be eligible to receive free vaccine through the Vaccines For Children program. For more information, go to www.coloradoimmunizations.com
Parents with insurance coverage for their children should contact their child’s primary care provider. Because of the Affordable Care Act, childhood immunizations required for school attendance are typically covered by private insurance policies. To avoid an office visit fee, parents need to indicate their visit is for the purpose of obtaining vaccinations.
Choosing not to immunize children is unwise, health officials report.
“There are several diseases that have been tragic to children in the past, resulting in either permanent disability or death. Vaccine-preventable diseases are ones where we have determined that the shot is much safer than the possibility of getting the illness,” Ciccia said. “It also protects the community at large. When you don’t have most of students immunized, the chance of an outbreak in the community is much higher.”
Vaccines prevent disease from occurring rather than treating existing illnesses. High rates of routine vaccination in the U.S. protect the population from diseases, such as measles, that are still common in other countries.
“Getting vaccinated is a safe and simple way to protect us all from potentially deadly diseases,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, deputy director for disease control at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Vaccination also helps ensure students don’t miss important classroom time due to preventable illnesses, and that parents don’t have to miss work to care for sick children.”
For more information call the District Re-1 health department at 565-3722, ext. 2146, or the Montezuma County Health department at 565-3056.