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Kanawha officials urge pertussis vaccination

CHARLESTON, W.Va.--After reports of pertussis surfaced in the county, Kanawha-Charleston Health Department officials are stressing the importance of getting regular immunizations.

Officials earlier confirmed reports of a child with pertussis attending the U.S. Martial Arts Tournament in St. Albans as well as a student attending school in Kanawha County. 

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is caused by the bacteria bordetella pertussis and is highly contagious. The respiratory disease is most commonly spread person-to-person by coughing or sneezing close to others.

At the beginning, pertussis mimics the common cold. Later on, symptoms include coughing fits, vomiting, exhaustion from coughing and a cough lasting up to 10 weeks.

Anyone can get it, but it's most harmful to unvaccinated infants, people with weakened immune systems and the elderly.

Last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 85 cases of pertussis in West Virginia.

Dr, Rahul Gupta, Kanawha-Charleston health department executive director, said pertussis was prevalent in the 1920s-40s but vaccines have brought rates down.

"Then, you don't see it anymore and people get lax a little bit, asking, 'Why should I inject foreign substances in my child's body or mine?'<!p><#148> Gupta said.

Gupta said this is the reason why certain places have experienced a resurgence in the respiratory disease.

"We saw it happen in California in 2010, where 9,000 cases of pertussis were reported in an outbreak, including 10 fatalities of infants," Gupta said. 

For children, the vaccination is called DTaP, which is a series of five initial shots for newborns. Gupta explained the series of shots are scheduled for 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months and the last shot of the series is for 4- to 6-year-olds. 

"The infant doesn't get to develop full immunity if they are 6 months of age," Gupta explained. "They don't even start immunization until they are 2 months old."

Then, young adults get two boosters at the beginning of seventh grade and at the beginning of 12th grade.

However, immunizations do not stop there. Gupta said in addition to getting a tetanus shot every 10 years, one of the shots should be replaced by a Tdap booster.

And latest recommendations call for women to get a Tdap shot each time they are pregnant. Gupta said even women who have had the shot before must get one, preferably in the third trimester.

"The idea is it's such a fatal disease for infants to have," Gupta said. "Having that shot in the third trimester does boost immunity to make sure she protects the newborn."

Contact writer Andrea Lannom at or 304-348-5148. Follow her at ;


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