Friday December 14, 2012

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Department of Health wants all Vermonters over 11 and especially those over 19, to get vaccinated against whooping cough and is holding clinics next week at each of its 12 district offices across the state to combat what it says in an epidemic.

In Bennington the clinic will be at 324 Main St., Bennington Suite 2. Dr. Patsy Kelso, state epidemiologist for infectious disease with the Department of Health, said the clinics will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday. The shots are free through the clinic while according to officials they cost about $50 elsewhere.

The Department of Health has recorded 522 cases of whooping cough this year, 10 times the normal amount. Whooping cough is a bacterial disease spread through "respiratory discharge" via sneezing and coughing.

"These are epidemic numbers for our small state," said Dr. Harry Chen, commissioner of the Department of Health, who along with other health officials spoke to members of the press Thursday about the epidemic and what the department has been doing to combat it.

The state has ordered 3,500 doses of the vaccine to bolster what is in stock now, according to Kelso. The adult version of the vaccine also protects against tetanus and diphtheria, and those who have had a vaccine against tetanus can get this new vaccine, known as Tdap, a vaccine approved for use in 2005.

Kelso said the vaccine is commonly given to infants and children through normal vaccination cycles, but it does wear off. She said Vermont has about a 90 percent vaccination rate for school children but in terms of whooping cough vaccinated adults, the numbers are estimated to be much lower, around 10 percent. Kelso said it is believed that the non-vaccinated adult population is responsible for the spread of the disease.

Chen said the Department of Health has been monitoring the disease's spread for the past year and trying to contain it. "Despite our collective efforts, whooping cough is still spreading throughout the state," he said, adding that the disease is affecting other states in a similar fashion.

Dr. Lewis First, chief of pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care, said those vaccinated can still get sick with whooping cough but the symptoms are less severe and it those with the vaccine stand less of a chance of contaminating others. He said aside from vaccination, which is the best preventative measure, people should routinely wash their hands and cough into tissues or their sleeves.

He said it is recommended that those over 19 get a whooping cough inoculation along with their tetanus shots, unless there is an epidemic, which now there is.

While no one has died from whooping cough in at least 20 years, it is a potentially fatal disease, especially for infants. According to the Health Department, over 20 infants under one year of age have been diagnosed with whooping cough this year.

Kelso said the state has paid about $70,000 for the added 3,500 doses.