Colorado urges vaccinations as pertussis epidemic spreads

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment urged state residents to get pertussis vaccinations on Wednesday as an epidemic of the disease continued to spread throughout the state in October.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, caused an epidemic level number of cases in the state during the past two years. There were 1,494 cases of pertussis in Colorado in 2012 and there were 1,116 cases of pertussis reported in the first 10 months of 2013.

"Pertussis immunizations are recommended for all children and adults, but it is especially important for people who have contact with infants to be up-to-date," Rachel Herlihy, the medical director of the department's immunization section, said. "Infants are too young to receive the vaccine themselves and have a higher risk of hospitalization and death due to pertussis."

Pertussis is a respiratory tract bacterial infection that spreads easily through the air from an infected person's coughs and sneezes. The illness typically begins with cold-like symptoms and a cough that becomes more severe during the first week or two after infection. Coughing fits are followed by a high-pitched whoop or vomiting. The cough can last for a couple of months and becomes more frequent at night.

"Unfortunately parents and other caregivers are commonly the source of pertussis infections in infants," Herlihy said. "With national estimates suggesting only 12 percent of adults have received the recommended Tdap vaccine, we are missing too many opportunities to prevent these infections."

The department recommends vaccines for children between the ages of seven and 10 who are not fully immunized, adolescents between the ages of 11 and 12 years old, adults who never received a Tdap vaccine, pregnant women at 27 through 36 weeks of pregnancy, parents and caregivers of infants under 12 months of age, healthcare workers and others who plan to have close contact with an infant.