As of Monday, April 8, Garfield County Public health officials had confirmed four cases of people who tested positive for pertussis, or whooping cough.
Public health officials were working to control any further spread of the contagious bacteria and investigating several other unconfirmed cases.
People were urged to help stop the spread by ensuring families are up-to-date on their Dtap (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) or Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) vaccinations.
In December, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment declared a pertussis epidemic in Colorado. Until now, Garfield County had no reported cases. Severe illness, hospitalization, pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death are potential complications associated with the disease.
Dr. Chad Knaus of Carbondale stresses that immunizations are the best protection against pertussis.
"Vaccines are recommended by physicians and health experts, because they are our best defense in keeping the whole community healthy," Knaus said. "Parents may feel that not vaccinating a child is a personal decision. However, it is important to consider how that decision may impact others in the community, others who may not have the same access to health care, or who may experience greater complications from being exposed to the disease."
"Pertussis spreads very easily through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes," said Laurel Little, Garfield County Public Health nurse manager. "This is especially concerning for newborns, who are too young to be vaccinated. If they become exposed, the disease can be fatal. Older children and adults may have milder symptoms that resemble a common cold with a cough. Many times these individuals don't know they have pertussis, and end up spreading the disease."
Almost everyone who is not immune to whooping cough will get sick if exposed to it.
Before the whooping cough vaccine was implemented in 1991, about 8,000 people in the U.S. died each year from the disease. Today, the average number of deaths annually is fewer than 50.
Anyone who feels he or she may have been exposed to someone with pertussis should be evaluated by a physician.
Symptoms of whooping cough:
• Early indications are a runny or stuffed-up nose, sneezing, mild cough, and even pauses in breathing for infants.
• After one or two weeks, coughing, which can be severe, starts.
• Children and babies can cough very hard, over and over.
• When children gasp for breath after a coughing fit, they make a "whooping" sound.
• Coughing fits make it hard to breathe, eat, drink or sleep.
• Babies and young children may turn blue while coughing from lack of oxygen.
• Coughing fits may occur over the span of more than two months.
Who should be vaccinated?
Children, pre-teens, pregnant women, teens and adults who live or work around young children.
Nursing staff is available for immunization appointments, said Little. Public health offices are located at 195 W. 14th St. in Rifle and 2014 Blake Ave. in Glenwood Springs.
Public health nurses will also be at health fairs throughout the county, providing pertussis vaccinations for people who are 10 years or older, Little added.
For answers to questions about the pertussis vaccine, or to make an appointment, call 945-6614. Information on pertussis is also available online at garfield-county.com/public-health or cdc.gov/pertussis.