CARBONDALE, Colorado - As of Monday, Garfield County had four confirmed cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, according to Garfield County Public Health.
The department is working to control spread of the contagious bacteria and is investigating several other unconfirmed cases. Public health workers are urging people to take precautions to help stop spread of the bacteria, 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, M.D., 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, nurse manager with Public Health. "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," Little added. "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, because of the vaccine, 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.
"Garfield County Public Health is working hard to protect its residents. The nursing staff is available for immunization appointments," said Little.
Garfield County Public Health offices are located at 2014 Blake Ave., Glenwood Springs, and at 195 West 14th Street, Rifle.
"GCPH nurses will also be at health fairs throughout Garfield County, providing pertussis vaccinations for people who are 10 years or older," Little added.
Public Health workers are available to answer questions at 970-945-6614.