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Whooping cough explodes in Salt Lake

Published January 9, 2012 3:53 pm

County officials say the infection rate tends to spike every few years.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

When Liz Pulver's infant daughter got a cough this winter, she decided to record it on her cellphone so her doctor could hear it. She was worried: Babies like hers are too young to be immunized.

The doctor confirmed that indeed the girl had pertussis, making her one of the 310 Salt Lake County residents infected last year, ranging from 3 weeks to 88 years old. Only 176 residents had the infection the year before.

County officials can't explain the 76 percent increase, other than the fact that outbreaks often happen every three to five years. "We're overdue," said Dagmar Vitek, medical director at the Salt Lake Valley Health Department.

The average age of sick residents was 25, though many were in their teens.

Other regions in the state, including Utah County, are also seeing a spike in the disease despite the introduction of a new vaccine several years ago. Pulver knew newborns could die or experience major complications.

"It's disappointing to know other people aren't as vigilant about getting their immunizations," she said. "We still don't know who gave it to her."

The baby received antibiotics for a week — along with the rest of the family. Now, 2-month-old Lauren is doing well. Pulver recommends that all adults make sure they're up to date on their vaccinations. She, her husband and their twins had been vaccinated before the baby got sick.

"We had everybody wash their hands and be careful around her, but you can't control if people feel like they're feeling sick and they still hold your baby," the mother said.

The vaccine is not 100 percent effective, explained Kevin Lash, a doctor with Wasatch Pediatrics. Another problem: Childhood immunizations wear off, so teens and adults need a booster.

"One of the good things is a lot of the moms are getting vaccinated in the hospital when they have their baby," he said. "We vaccinate parents and grandparents in the office too if they come in with a new baby and haven't been vaccinated."

Young children who catch pertussis can end up with pneumonia and need to be hospitalized. Seizures have been associated with the infection.

This winter's warm weather should be slowing the rate of infection, said Vitek, with the county health department. More people are outdoors and not clustered inside, where disease can easily spread.

Whooping cough spreads through respiratory droplets. The name comes from the deep, whooping breaths sick people take after violent coughing. Vaccination begins at 2 months and continues in multiple stages during childhood.

jlyon@sltrib.com

Whooping cough cases in Salt Lake County

2006 449

2007 277

2008 113

2009 136

2010 176

2011 310