An ounce of prevention

Beginning in the fall of this year, all children entering seventh grade will be required to take an immunization to protect them from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. The immunization, known as a Tdap vaccine, is part of a statewide mandate to protect against particularly against pertussis, also known as whooping cough, according to public health officials.

Hamilton County fifth and sixth graders will have an opportunity to receive the vaccine right in their respective schools at no cost, according to Dawn Trujillo, Hamilton County Public Health nurse. Working with school nurses in each of the school districts, Trujillo said when the vaccine arrives, clinics will be announced for the school.

“Most children have their last dose of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis at kindergarten,” she said. “The state decided that we need to revaccinate these kids.”

Trujillo said the state has seen a dramatic increase in pertussis cases over the past five years. The number of reported cases have increased from 152 in 2007 to 1,647 in 2012. That figure represents an increase of 417 percent. Trujillo said Hamilton County has had a few cases.

She said the state is also advising any adults who have exposure to children to get the vaccine also.

“Parents of newborns, grandparents, older children in the home, day care providers anybody who might be in contact with young children,” she said.

“Babies cannot get the first dose until they are two months of age. Most babies get some protection from their mothers,” Trujillo said. “But pertussis can be fatal to a child that young. It generally is not fatal for older children and adults, but they can become very sick.”

Pertussis is a contagious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the disease starts like the common cold with runny nose or congestion, sneezing and perhaps a mild cough or fever. But unlike a common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks. Pertussis can cause violent and rapid coughing until the air is gone from the lungs and the patient is forced to inhale with a loud “whooping” sound, according to the IDPH information. The majority of cases occur in children from 10 to 14 years.

Trujillo said she has ordered 300 doses of the vaccine which will be administered to fifth and sixth graders in the four districts. She said that doesn’t include all fifth and sixth graders, she said.

“Some may have already had the Tdap,” she said. “Others may not have received the information yet.”

Permission and explanation sheets were sent home with fifth and sixth grade students. Trujillo said if parents haven’t received the information it is available on the school website or on the Hamilton County Public Health website, She said that doses for adults and older children are also available at her office, 820 James St., or call 832-9565 for more information.

Trujillo said the real test of the new mandate will come in fall as school nurses and the districts try to verify that children have been vaccinated.

“It could be a nightmare this fall for those who haven’t gotten the vaccine,” she said. “But it’s the law. They have to do it.”

She said a statewide database records the immunizations. But if the vaccines are given in a physician’s office who does not report to the database, the student will have to provide a note from the physician. Likewise, she said, students who may have allergies or other health conditions that would prevent them from taking the vaccine, would have to provide documentation from their physician.