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Statewide campaign targets adult vaccination to slow spread of pertussis and save babies

Published: Monday, Feb. 25 2013 3:40 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Lacie Bleak doesn't want to be stuck at home all winter, so she gathered with other new moms Monday to plead with the public to receive the pertussis vaccine.

"We've got sanitizer everywhere, and we're pretty vigilant about making sure if we are out and about he is covered and that we aren't constantly touching his face," said Bleak, whose son, Bodie, is about 6 weeks old. "I'm hoping everybody gets out and makes sure they (get vaccinated) so I'm not stuck home all day with a sick baby."

In the past two years, pertussis, or whooping cough, has been on the rise throughout the nation. Last year, Utah reached a rate five times higher than the national average, said Dr. David Patton, director of the Utah Department of Health.

Of the nearly 1,500 reported cases in Utah in 2012, he said 45 children were hospitalized, one of which resulted in death. In 2011, 618 pertussis cases were reported.

"Children under 1 year are the hardest hit," Patton said.

The state health department, along with nine of Utah's 12 local health departments, launched a new media campaign Monday, encouraging adults to get an available booster vaccination to extend their immunity and help protect Utah kids.

"We don't want to alarm people unnecessarily, but it is something we can prevent, and it would be foolish not to do anything about it," Patton said.

Because children under age 4 cannot be fully immunized against whooping cough, health department officials say the responsibility of stopping the spread of disease lies primarily with adults, specifically pregnant women who can pass antibodies that can protect against the illness to their unborn children.

"The majority of adult Americans don't get the recommended adult vaccinations, of which the Tdap vaccine is one of them," said Gary Edwards, director of the Salt Lake Valley Health Department.

Edwards said many adults aren't even aware they need the booster vaccine, and only 13 percent report getting it.

While pertussis usually results in minor but prolonged illness in healthy adults, it can be fatal in infants who are too young to be immunized against it.

"We need moms understanding how critical this is and adults taking responsibility for it," Edwards said.

One of the new television advertisements slated to run throughout the state shows a new father locked out of his house until he gets the shot. Edwards said the portrayal resulted from real-life events of a man who visited the health department looking for urgent help.

While supplies last, pregnant women who get the Tdap shot at their local health department clinics or at participating Harmons pharmacy locations, will receive a onesie for their baby containing a message that the baby is protected. More information can be found online at StopWhoopingCough.org.

Whooping cough is a highly contagious bacterial infection that is spread primarily through the air and direct contact with mucus or droplets from the nose and throat of infected individuals. Symptoms often resemble that of the common cold, including a lasting cough, but are more severe in young children, leading to potentially more dangerous complications.

"The goal is protecting Utah residents, especially children, from pertussis," Patton said. "Ask your family, friends, neighbors, babysitters — anyone who may come in contact with your baby — to get the Tdap and help protect your baby's life."

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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