Pertussis outbreak going easy on Western Slope

Cases of pertussis, or “whooping cough,” have increased dramatically this year in Colorado. But so far, Mesa County isn’t one of the harder-hit areas.

As of Nov. 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had counted 1,300 cases of pertussis statewide in 2012, up from an average of 158 cases between Jan. 1 and Nov. 26 each year between 2007 and 2011. Colorado started describing its upswing in pertussis diagnoses as epidemic on Aug. 20.

Pertussis cases have increased in Mesa County from four in 2011 to 14 this year through Nov. 24, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. But the rate of cases per 100,000 residents in the county remains relatively low at 9.5 — a rate lower than 24 of the 30 other Colorado counties that have reported at least one case of pertussis this year.

The Mesa County Department of Health and Human Services usually issues a news release if pertussis cases reach an epidemic level locally, according to department spokeswoman Karen Martsolf. But that hasn’t been needed because the county’s pertussis caseload is not as startling as the state’s cumulative whooping cough count, she said.

“We just haven’t gotten to that level yet,” Martsolf said.

Delta and Montrose counties have reported six and five cases of pertussis this year, respectively, according to the CDPHE. All other counties affected are on or just west and/or south of the Front Range or in the Eastern Plains, with the exception of San Miguel, La Plata, Grand and Summit counties from the Western Slope. Grand and La Plata have reported three cases apiece this year and Summit and San Miguel have counted a single case each.

Pertussis is a contagious disease that can be spread to a person who breathes in the bacteria if an infected person sneezes or coughs, according to the CDPHE. Complications can include pneumonia, convulsions, apnea, encephalopathy or death in younger patients and weight loss, loss of consciousness, loss of bladder control, or rib fractures from severe coughing in teens and adults.

The Tdap and DTaP vaccinations can guard against pertussis, but even immunized people can get a less severe form of pertussis and spread it to others. Babies usually get the first of five DTaP vaccination doses at two months and the last dose at 4 to 6 years old, which is one reason why infants and young children can have the most complications with pertussis.


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