As the North Pacific Pediatric Society’s annual meeting got underway recently, organizers invited Dr. Maxine Hayes of the Washington State Department of Health to the podium to deliver a special – and urgent – message.
Her plea to pediatricians: Make sure that you, all of your staff, and your patients have been immunized against pertussis. Not only was the Society meeting during National Infant Immunization Week, but Washington State had just recorded its 1,000th case of pertussis in 2012, with 61% of cases in school-age children, she reported.
“It’s the worst we’ve seen in six decades,” Dr. Hayes said. “If infections continue at this rate, we’ll have more than 3,000 cases by the end of the year.”
Washington State had 1,008 reported cases of pertussis by April 21, 2012 – nearly 10 times more than the 110 cases reported during the same period in 2011, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are more pertussis cases in the state already for 2012 than there were in all of 2011 (965 cases) or all of 2010 (608 cases).
The Washington epidemic follows on the heals of a 2010 outbreak of 9,143 cases in California – the most in 63 years – that killed at least 10 infants.
My colleagues at IMNG Medical Media have been following the story, with multiple reports. The California epidemic probably was due to the waning immunity of the tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine. Tdap vaccine is recommended for all health care workers.
And it’s not just for kids, health care workers, and medical office staff. If you’re a physician who treats adults, you should know that older adults need the Tdap vaccine too. Even pregnant women should be vaccinated.
When Dr. Michael E. Pichichero randomly asked 10 pediatricians if they’d had the Tdap vaccine, 8 of them said no, with some pretty weak excuses, if you ask me.
“I know that there are people in this room who have not had their Tdaps,” Dr. Hayes said with an accusing smile. “I also know that in busy practices, you have people in and out every day that have not had their Tdap. I’m calling on you to really get on it.” Make sure that your emergency rooms have Tdap in stock, too, she added.
“And if you’re not in Washington, don’t be smug about this, because you could be next,” Dr. Hayes said. Her public health colleagues in Oregon State are taking this so seriously that they’re planning to open pertussis booster clinics, she noted.
–Sherry Boschert (@sherryboschert on Twitter)