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Get students vaccinated now, local health officials urge

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GINA R. HEINE
August 20, 2012

— Pallet load of glue sticks—check.

Twelve washable markers and 16-count box of Crayons—check.

Finally, to complete the back-to-school list, a pertussis shot.

Pertussis, better known as whooping cough, has been catching on, and the Rock County Health Department wants to make sure all kids are vaccinated.

"We do not want kids walking back into that communal environment without protection from whooping cough, especially not in the middle of an outbreak," said Janet Zoellner, nurse and public health supervisor for the department.

Pertussis, which is extremely contagious, is one of the most common vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control.

"Unless you get treatment extremely early you will cough and cough hard for months," Zoellner said. "For children, their sleep will be disturbed, they will be miserable."

Although school-age children won't die from whooping cough, they could very easily pass it along to people who could including babies without immunity, seniors and people with compromised immune systems.

And Rock County is in the middle of an outbreak.

In 2010, the health department investigated nine cases, with four confirmed or probable. In 2011, those numbers jumped to 45 investigated and seven confirmed or probable.

In just the first half of 2012, the department has investigated 320 cases including 67 confirmed or probable. And those 320 were just the cases that were tested and confirmed by physicians.

"The numbers are probably much higher," Zoellner said.

In Rock County, 41 percent of children heading into kindergarten haven't had the recommended dose of vaccine commonly referred to as Dtap: Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

Of all Rock County children heading into sixth grade, 62 percent still need a booster shot.

That's why the health department is encouraging people to have their children immunized before the start of school.

Besides the health risks, the longer parents wait—the longer their wait will become.

No child will be turned away from school for not having a Dtap vaccine. However, if the vaccine isn't administered within 15 days of the start of school, parents will get a letter reminding them of their obligations.

A second letter comes after about 25 days, and after 30 days an exclusion letter arrives giving parents a date when their child will not be allowed to come to school.

"We get hundreds of people that call the day before the exclusion and tell us they need an immunization," Zoellner said. "Last year in the south office, people waited six hours."

Parents who want to get their children vaccinated in August or September can make an appointment with the health department or attend a walk-in clinic with very little waiting.

The standard recommendations for Dtap say children should be immunized at 2, 4 and 6 months, once during the toddler years and again they head to kindergarten.

Another shot should be given during early adolescence, and adults should be vaccinated very 10 years. Many receive just the tetanus vaccine, but it's important to have the pertussis shot, as well, Zoellner said.

If children haven't had any of the early shots, they still should get one before school, Zoellner said. After all, some protection is better than none.

Of course, parents can sign waivers saying they don't want their children vaccinated.

"We are very concerned about parents who sign waivers," Zoellner said. "The more people that are unimmunized in our population, the larger the pool of people of people who could get and spread a disease."

If you go

What: The Rock County Health Department is encouraging parents of school-age children to get their vaccines as soon as possible.

Where: The department's north office is at 3328 N. Highway 14, Janesville, and its south office is at 61 Eclipse Center, Beloit. The department also holds vaccine clinics in Clinton, Milton, Edgerton and elsewhere in the county.

When: Appointments are available from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., Monday Wednesday and Friday at both north and south offices. Walk-in hours are from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays at the north office and from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the south office. Evening hours are available from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month at the south office and from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the north office.

For more: Visit www.co.rock.wi.us/health-department-home or call the north office at (608) 757-5440 or the south office at (608) 364-2010.

Cost: $5 for children up to the age of 19. Patients with Medical Assistance are not charged. If someone comes in with no money, the health department will serve him or her.

People with insurance are encouraged to make appointments with their primary care doctors.



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