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Shots rise as coughs fall

Shots rise as coughs fall

With his wispy blond curls, rosy cheeks and clear blue eyes, Christopher Frownfelter looks like every mother's image of a happy, healthy toddler.

Not so long ago, the little boy with the Gerber smile didn't look so contented. At 12 months, he caught a bad cold. At 14 months he came down with a respiratory virus. At one point doctors thought he might have pertussis ' the bacterial infection commonly known as whooping cough.

After Christopher spent a night in a hospital, Liisa Ivary and Greg Frownfelter had second thoughts about not immunizing their son against childhood diseases.

It scared the bejesus out of us, Ivary said last week. We decided to do the whole panoply (of infant immunizations). It seems like some diseases are breaking out again.

— The Ashland couple still have mixed emotions about immunizations because of the complications that arise in a few children.

I'm still kind of freaked out about measles and mumps (immunizations), Ivary said, but I was more freaked out about my child being ill.

Dozens of other Jackson County parents apparently had a similar change of heart ' at least about pertussis immunizations ' during the past two months as whooping cough spread to nearly every community in Jackson County.

Nearly twice as many parents immunized their children against pertussis during May and June 2003 as during the same period a year ago. Jackson County public health nurses administered 339 immunizations for pertussis during May and June 2003, an 88 percent increase over the same period for 2002, when they did just 180 pertussis immunizations.

Public health nurse Viki Barbour said private physicians' offices answered more requests for immunizations, too, as news spread about pertussis and how it killed an 11-week old Klamath County baby.

Barbour said no new pertussis cases have surfaced in Jackson County for nearly two weeks, and public health officials hope the outbreak is winding down.

the Fourth of July, laboratory tests had confirmed 11 cases of pertussis in Jackson County since early May ' as many cases as were reported during the 10 years between 1993 and 2002.

An additional 50 cases are presumptive ' the patients have all the symptoms of pertussis and were exposed to someone who had the disease, but laboratory tests have not confirmed that they have been infected by the Bordetella pertussis bacterium.

Barbour noted that reported cases include only those that have been confirmed by laboratory testing. It's impossible to know how many cases go unreported.

Since the outbreak began, public health workers have contacted more than 600 people across the county, telling them they or their children might have been exposed to the disease.

There's been lots and lots of phone calling, Barbour said. We've done some mailing, and even some e-mailing. We've used every method we could think of, and utilized every staff member we could. Even Hank (Collins, the county's director of health and human services) was making phone calls and calling in prescriptions.

As public health workers talked with people across the county they began to realize pertussis was spreading months before the first case was confirmed.

People went to a (health-care) provider and were misdiagnosed, Barbour said, or they were diagnosed and not reported.

Pertussis usually begins as a mild respiratory infection, with symptoms similar to a common cold: sneezing, runny nose, low-grade fever, mild cough. Within two weeks, the cough becomes severe and includes episodes of numerous rapid coughs followed by a gasping high-pitched whoop.

Those episodes, more frequent at night, might continue for one to two months. Older people and partially immunized children generally have milder symptoms.

The disease can be fatal if pneumonia develops. Seventy percent of all fatalities occur in infants younger than 6 months. Infants are typically immunized at 2, 4, 6 and 15 months, and again before entering school.

Barbour said several of the most recent cases may have exposed children at three schools to pertussis. Parents of children who attend Talent Middle School, Rogue River High School or southeast Medford's Orchard Hill Elementary School should consult a physician if their children develop a cough that doesn't go away.

Parents need to be more vigilant, Barbour said, noting that a small amount of the pertussis bacterium often persists in the community. They're like embers that could reignite the whole thing again.

Liisa Ivary and Greg Frownfelter decided to immunize their son, Christopher, against pertussis after he had a long sickly spell this spring. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven