Montana residents young and old need to make sure they are vaccinated against whooping cough because it has become a public health issue.
For many, this requires getting a booster, because the vaccinations are usually valid for only five to 10 years.
As of July 31, 450 cases had been reported in Montana for the first half of the year, compared with 549 cases in all 2012.
Yellowstone County this year ranks third in the state for whooping cough, with 36 cases as of July 29. But those numbers don’t tell the entire story. They represent only a fraction of the total prevalence of the disease. Adults tend to experience milder cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, with cold-like symptoms and a lingering cough.
The patient may not see a doctor, or the doctor might not order a definitive test because of the cost, and the case is not reported.
The infection can be deadly — most at risk include infants and those who are medically fragile. Not getting a vaccination could put someone else’s life at risk. The most tragic cases involve mothers unknowingly passing the disease to their newborn children.
Last year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 41,000 lab-confirmed cases.
Eighteen people died as a result; almost all of those were younger than 3 years old.
Pertussis, the bacterial name of the disease, is mostly preventable through the use of vaccinations, though they are not 100 percent effective.
Montana has historically had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, which could be contributing to the increased number of cases.
Vaccine-preventable diseases have social and economic costs. Sick children miss school and can cause parents to lose time from work.
These diseases also result in doctor’s visits, hospitalizations and sometimes premature deaths.
Immunizations have been called one of the most important public health interventions in history, saving millions of lives and preventing hundreds of millions of cases of disease.
We’ve come too far in eradicating common but dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases to let unfounded fears infect and potentially kill the most vulnerable in our society.
Everyone should ensure their pertussis vaccine is up to date and stop the spread of this preventable infection as soon as possible.
Whooping cough is a preventable disease. Learn more; get vaccinated.