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Let’s Talk About Pertussis Also Known as Whooping Cough

Written by Richard Lander MD FAAP

What is pertussis?

Pertussis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria. Sometimes referred to as the hundred day cough, it can be quite debilitating. The cough is persistent and recurs day in and day out. Once you hear this cough, you will never forget it. The cough is repetitive, easily lasting 30 seconds or more and has a whoop sound at the end of it. This whoop is what gives rise to its popular name whooping cough. If you are curious, you can hear the whoop sound on the internet.

Who gets Pertussis?

Many people do-all ages and from all walks of life including: young children, teenagers, adults in middle age and senior citizens.

Is Pertussis contagious?

Yes it is. I have seen Pertussis several times in my practice this year. I have seen it spread from mother to child, among siblings and even from teacher to students.

Treatment of Pertussis

There are different phases of Pertussis. When the diagnosis is made during the first phase of the illness, it can be treated with antibiotics. This may shorten the duration of the disease. Otherwise physicians can offer supportive care and medication to help the patient sleep.

Prevention

Pertussis is preventable by a vaccine. This vaccine, DPT (Diptheria, Pertussis and Tetanus) is typically given during childhood. The vaccine is given as a series of three injections in the first year of life, a booster during the second year of life and another booster before the start of elementary school. An additional booster is given at 11 year of age.

Because this last vaccine is relatively new, many children older than 11 year of age will be receiving it. Additionally the Tetanus booster which has always been recommended to be given every ten years has been change to include the Pertussis vaccine.

Therefore, adults of almost all ages are urged to obtain it even if you received a Tetanus booster a year ago. Many hospitals across the country are giving the vaccine to new mothers right after delivery and in some progressive hospitals the vaccine is being offered to new dads and to grandparents.

With this approach the State of California, which had seen deaths from Pertussis in the last few years, has dramatically decreased their rate of Pertussis. These dramatic results have persuaded many pediatricians to offer this vaccine to parents and grandparents of their patients.

Why talk about Pertussis now?

Pertussis is on the rise in the United States. From January through March in 2012 there were seven times the number of cases seen in Washington, D.C. than in the same time frame the year before in 2011. So why you might wonder: why this rise in Pertussis now? Several years ago we experienced a number of parents refusing to have their children vaccinated against childhood diseases including Pertussis.

These refusals were based on fears of the vaccines and components of the vaccines such as aluminum or mercury. Thankfully, these fears have been proven to have been unfounded. Unfortunately, once people stopped vaccinating their children, herd immunity was lost.

Herd immunity is gained when a majority of people in a geographic area receive a vaccine. These vaccines then protect even the few who were not vaccinated.

As the number of vaccine refusers climbed, we lost herd immunity. Hopefully today with increased knowledge through education, the number of vaccine refusers is beginning to decline and more people are again protected against infectious diseases such as Pertussis. Scientists are working tirelessly looking for clues to currently unanswerable medical questions.

Every day they race the clock in an effort to look for a treatment for currently untreatable medical conditions and diseases. Pertussis is not one of them. Pertussis is preventable with a vaccine It is criminal that there are people living in the United States in 2012 suffering from a disease they did not have to have. Please don’t be one of them. Ensure that you and your loved ones do not get Pertussis. Get vaccinated! Get vaccinated now!

Dr. Lander has been practicing pediatrics for 32 years in New Jersey and is the immediate past chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Administration and Practice Management.  He says if he had to do it all over again he wouldn’t hesitate to be a pediatrician.

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Contagious Diseases and Siblings

Written by Jesse Hackell MD

In the fall of 1957, the Asian influenza pandemic was spreading across the country. My younger sister had just been diagnosed with that flu, and my grandmother had arrived shortly thereafter to help at our home when my mother entered the hospital to give birth to another sister. In those days, one could count of a solid seven days in the maternity hospital, even for an uncomplicated delivery.

Knowing the extremely contagious nature of the flu (she had lived through the devastating influenza pandemic of 1918), my grandmother set out with every weapon known to modern grandmotherhood to prevent my father and me from getting sick, fearing the consequences for my mother and newborn sister. With isolation, chicken soup and constant scrubbing and disinfecting, my father and I were spared the disease, as were my mother and sister, and, as long as she lived, my grandmother delighted in telling the story of how she confounded the pediatrician who had predicted that we would all very soon be ill.

Flash forward fifty-four years to 2011. What are the risks to siblings today when one member of a family contracts a communicable disease, and how should we respond? I think that the answer depends on many factors, one of which concerns the nature of the particular illness that one person has contracted.

Viral Illnesses

Some viral illnesses are highly contagious, even without direct contact. Certainly chicken pox and measles used to spread through families like wildfires, but immunization has largely reduced the occurrence of these diseases, primarily by greatly reducing the amount of disease in circulation, and, further, by producing immunity in children who might somehow be exposed. The same goes for influenza, the bane of my grandmother; since universal influenza immunization was recommended a few years ago, the burden of disease has been reduced, although not as much as it could be if everyone actually did get their flu shots.

Contagious Illnesses

How about other types of infectious, contagious illnesses? The common cold is just that, common, and most people will suffer one or multiple episodes each year. Unfortunately, there is no effective preventive immunization, and it does tend to spread readily; fortunately, it tends, in most people, to be relatively  mild and of short duration.

Strep Throat

Strep throat is another common contagious illness, especially in children. There certainly are families where multiple members will get strep in close temporal relationship to each other, and these may be the result of spread within the family.

But it is also possible that multiple family members were exposed at school or work, and contracted the illness elsewhere.  But strep is harder to spread than some of the illnesses discussed previously, and there are many cases where one family member gets it, and no one else becomes sick. This is one illness where good handwashing, and avoidance of sharing of food, utensils and so on, can be a useful preventive measure.

Infectious Mononucleosis

The same can be said for infectious mononucleosis–”mono,” also known as the “kissing disease,” primarily for its reputation as a common occurrence during adolescence. Yet in most of the families where one child has mono, it is very uncommon for other siblings to also contract it. Thus simply sharing a room, or time at the dinner table, is generally not enough to transmit an illness like mono.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia in children is also common, and the vast majority of cases are viral in origin–and they are often caused by the same viruses which cause the common cold. I tend to think of most cases of pneumonia as “a common infection in an uncommon place,” and generally feel that, while another member of a family might catch the same virus, it is far less likely to be caught as pneumonia. Rather, it might cause a head cold, sore throat or ear infection in someone else.

So why does this matter?

Rare is the day which goes by that I am not asked a question like “his brother has strep (or pneumonia of the flu or…), so why can’t you just treat all my kids for it without having to see them?” In response, it is important to point out that every person who gets a fever after being in contact with someone who has strep is far from guaranteed to have strep as the cause of that fever; most illnesses are just not that contagious, and most fevers require individual evaluation regardless of the person’s exposure.

The same thinking goes into my response to the schools who send home notices every time someone in a class is diagnosed with strep, ostensibly warning parents to be on the lookout for strep in their children. About the only thing these notices accomplish is the wasting of paper.

I would far prefer that parents react to each of their children’s illnesses in a vacuum, paying no attention to what the child might have been exposed to (assuming, of course, that the child has been fully immunized, thus pretty effectively–but not 100% completely– ruling out those preventable illnesses as a cause of the fever.)

What to do when your child is ill

When your child is ill, pay more attention to how he or she is acting, how sick he or she appears, and how well the illness is being handled by the child, than to what diseases he or she might have been exposed to.  Discussing that information with your pediatrician will enable you to better decide what y our next course of action should be for evaluating the illness in that child.

 

Dr. Hackell is a founding member of Pomona Pediatrics PC, a division of Children’s and Women’s Physicians of Westchester. He practices in the lower Hudson River Valley just north of New York City.

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Back to School Illnesses… Please Don’t Spread the Lovebugs

Written by Melissa Arca, MD

First of all, realize it’s inevitable: Children will get sick. I have yet to meet a child in school who went the whole school year without coming down with something. That being said, there are measures we can take to lessen the chances of our children falling prey to some of these viruses.

First, I will outline 5 of the most common culprits causing illness in the preschool and school age child during fall and winter. Then I will give you some practical tips on containing these viral bugs.

Hand Foot Mouth Disease: This is most commonly caused by the coxsackie virus and peaks in the summer and early Fall. This virus affects mostly young children (children under 10). The symptoms consist of a fever, decreased appetite, and sore throat. Usually painful mouth sores develop on the tongue, inside of cheeks and back of throat. This may or may not be accompanied by the non-itchy skin rash on palms and soles of feet.

The Common Cold: Your child may be afflicted with this a few times a year. The most common culprit here is the rhinovirus though there are several different viral strains producing symptoms of the common cold. Hence, several colds can be caught during one season. The symptoms vary but most commonly include: stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, mild fever, and sneezing.

The Flu: Ahh… the dreaded flu. Influenza and its various strains cause the dreaded flu symptoms. As opposed to the common cold, the flu gives more pronounced and severe symptoms: high fever (usually over 100.4), sudden onset of symptoms, profound body aches, headache, and general malaise with decreased appetite. With the common cold, respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, congestion and cough are more prominent than in the flu. So far, the only preventive medical defense we have against this is the seasonal flu shot.

Strep Throat: Unlike the above conditions, this one is caused by a bacteria (Group A Strep.) and not a virus. So, this must be treated with antibiotics. So how do you tell the difference from a common sore throat (viral pharyngitis) and strep throat? Here are the key differences: strep throat involves a higher fever (usually above 101 F), red and swollen throat with possible pus formation, absence of cough, and swollen lymph nodes in neck. Strep throat may also be accompanied by abdominal pain, possible vomiting, and a body rash.

Gastroenteritis, aka the “stomach flu,” is caused by several different types of viruses, most notably rotavirus and adenovirus. The most prominent symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea. Some children may only have the vomiting, some only the diarrhea, and the unlucky ones will have both. This may be accompanied by fever and stomach ache. Having the so-called “stomach flu” does not mean you have the “flu” as in influenza.

I picked the above 5 conditions because they are by far the most common this time of year and they are highly contagious. There is just no way around it. Okay, so having thrown all that at you, what can you do to help minimize and contain these nasty viruses?

  1. Frequent hand washing is the number one way to help prevent the spread of these bugs. Encourage and teach your child to wash their hands several times throughout the day. Before eating, after using the potty, after playing outside, etc. Have them sing a song while washing to make sure they wash long enough (ABC song is a good one).
  2. Carry sanitizer. I always wipe my kids’ hands as soon as they get into the car from school. This time of year, it’s just a good habit. Wipe down shopping cart handles too.
  3. Encourage children to sneeze and cough into their arms or a tissue.
  4. Keep children home if they have a fever, are vomiting, or have significant diarrhea. Of special note: keep them home if they have eye drainage, this could signify a conjunctivitis and should be evaluated by a doctor.
  5. Teach them not to share drinking cups or utensils with their friends.
  6. By all means, sanitize the toys and personal items in your house after a bout with any of the above.
  7. Make sure your children get enough sleep, eat well balanced meals, and exercise regularly. All of these will help insure that their immune systems stay in tip top shape.

Treatment: Since the above, with the exception of strep throat, are caused by viruses, antibiotics will not help. Keep your child comfortable by treating their fever with a fever reducer. Give plenty of fluids and rest. With the stomach flu, keep your child’s diet bland and make sure they stay hydrated with small and frequent amounts of liquids.

Possible Complications: Secondary infections can set in following colds or the flu. Ear infections and pneumonia are common secondary infections. Watch for fever recurrence, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or worsening cough. Dehydration can set in following a bout of gastroenteritis. Stay on top of your child’s liquid intake. These conditions should be evaluated by your child’s pediatrician.

Do not hesitate to contact your child’s pediatrician whenever you’re concerned or have questions regarding your child’s health.

Good luck to all of you this fall and winter season. Unfortunately, these bugs will make their way into our households — just make sure your child gets plenty of rest, fluids, and love.

We’ve already battled a short bout of gastroenteritis and a nagging cold. How about you? Have your children been afflicted by any of these back to school bugs yet?

Dr. Arca is a pediatrician, mom of two, writer, and blogger who works part time in a community clinic while raising her two young children. She has become passionate about writing and speaking about motherhood, parenting, and children’s health. She is author of the blog, Confessions of a Dr.Mom and writes a weekly column in her local newspaper, The Sacramento Bee.