State requires proof of pertussis shot for sixth-, ninth-graders
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com May 29, 2012 10:54PM
Updated: July 1, 2012 11:29AM
In the wake of recent outbreaks of whooping cough and with the number of cases rising sharply since 2009, all students in Illinois who are entering sixth or ninth grade in the 2012-13 school year will be required to prove they’ve gotten a booster shot under a new state mandate.
The vaccine given to infants and before kindergarten loses its effectiveness over time, health officials said, contributing to recent outbreaks of the infectious disease, also called pertussis.
A booster tetanus/diptheria/pertussis shot — Tdap — has been available since 2005 but was not previously required.
“This will help,” said Dr. Susan Gerber, associate medical director for the Cook County Department of Public Health.
The number of cases in Cook and Will counties reflects the statewide trend, according to local health officials.
In Cook County, 98 cases were reported in 2009, 142 in 2010, 280 last year, and 160 so far this year, as of earlier this month, Gerber said. Cases have been reported countywide, but more have been reported in northern Cook County, she said.
The climb is less dramatic in Will County, according to county health department spokesman Vic Reato, but it’s still significant. There were 19 cases in 2009, followed by 24 in 2010 and 31 last year, he said.
In December, the Illinois Department of Public Health alerted the public to an outbreak after it had seen 1,150 cases, primarily in Cook, McHenry, DuPage and Lake counties. The outbreaks are cyclical, with dramatic increases every four or five years, according to IDPH. The state reported 648 cases in 2009, and 1,058 in 2010.
Whooping cough is a bacterial disease that can be spread easily through coughing and sneezing. Symptoms are similar to those of a common cold, with a low-grade fever and occasional cough that gradually becomes more frequent, with spasmodic bursts of coughing. It gets its name from the high-pitched “whoop” that a victim makes when taking a breath after a coughing fit.
Reasons for the increase in cases are many, health officials said.
“Pertussis is always there. We do not know about every single case,” Gerber said.
She noted that statistics are only “indicators” of the presence of the disease.
“There is a lot more out there that does not get reported,” she said.
The numbers also could be up because there is more awareness, more testing and more accessibility to testing, Gerber said.
Illinois is one of 20 states that allows medical and religious exemptions for required vaccinations. Reato said that is one reason some diseases are starting to make comebacks. He cited a study by The Associated Press that found Illinois’ vaccine exemption rate is 5.3 percent for school-required shots.
“We have the capacity to eliminate the diseases if people would simply get the shots,” he said.
Reato said the higher rates of noncompliance are a factor in the recent outbreaks and that the cost of the vaccine is not. Health insurance generally covers the vaccine and booster, and uninsured or underinsured families are eligible for a free vaccine through the Vaccines for Children Program.
The state health department recommends that everyone 10 and older get the Tdap vaccine, as well as those who are in close contact with infants, for whom whooping cough is most severe and sometimes fatal.
Gerber said incidents of diptheria and tetanus are “rare,” but the vaccines are combined for convenience.
For more information, call (708) 786-4000 in Cook County, or (815) 740-8143 in Will County.