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DHS news release

Jan. 17, 2008

General contact: Bonnie Widerburg 971-673-1282
Technical contacts: Paul Cieslak, M.D., 971-673-1111
Jim Shames, M.D., Jackson County Health Officer, 541-776-7885
Karen Landers, M.D., Marion County Health Officer, 503-373-3787

Pertussis outbreaks point to importance of vaccination

In the wake of two recent outbreaks of pertussis (commonly called whooping cough), health officials are calling for parents to make sure they and their children are up-to-date on their pertussis vaccination.

"Pertussis is a very contagious disease that is particularly dangerous to children under the age of 5," said Susan Allan, M.D, J.D., M.P.H. "Infants are at the highest risk of hospitalization and death from the disease, and vaccination offers the best protection."

One of the outbreaks occurred in Jackson County, affecting five children. Four of the children were not vaccinated and the other was not up-to-date on the required immunizations. The other outbreak occurred in Marion County, affecting four people, including one adult. Most of the children were not up-to-date on their immunizations.

"Parents can protect their children by making sure they are fully vaccinated," Allan said. "It's also important for older siblings and adults to make sure they are up-to-date on their vaccination so they don't risk transmitting the disease to others, particularly infants."

For maximum protection, Allan recommends:

  • Vaccinate children against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis at 2, 4, 6 and 15-18 months, and again at 4 to 6 years of age. DTaP is the name of the vaccine used for children under age 7.
  • Vaccinate parents and siblings of infants with Tdap, a new vaccine that helps protect adolescents and adults from getting pertussis and reduces the risk they will transmit it to infants. Even adolescents and adults who don't typically come in contact with small children should be vaccinated.
  • Vaccinate health care workers with Tdap to ensure they don't expose child and adult patients to pertussis.

Pertussis is a very contagious disease that is common in the United States. Oregon cases reached an all-time high in 2004 with 625 cases, or 14.9 per 100,000 population. This was two times the national average and seventh highest in the nation. Oregon has recorded four infant deaths to pertussis in the past seven years, according to Allan.

Whooping cough is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, which is found in the mouth, nose and throat of an infected person. It begins as a mild infection with symptoms that resemble the common cold. Within two weeks, the cough becomes more severe with episodes of numerous coughs. Infants and young children may have the high-pitched whoop that is heard when they try to take a quick, deep breath after the coughing fit.


"During the past century, pertussis was a major cause of childhood death, but widespread vaccination dramatically reduced cases by 150,000 a year," Allan said. "Because of this success, people tend to think these old diseases were vanquished, but they are still a threat -- which is why childhood immunization is so important."

Additional information about pertussis can be found on the DHS pertussis​ Web site.

The DHS Immunization Program is one of many public health programs within DHS that focus on prevention and helping people manage their health so they can be as productive and healthy as possible.