Outbreak ups immunization awareness

ALBANY, Ga. -- It's a message that public health officials have been promoting since the beginning.

Last year's cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, in the Southwest Public Health District serve as a reminder that children are at risk of developing serious and life-threatening diseases and continue to need the protection provided by vaccines.

This year's observance of National Infant Immunization Week, which is from Saturday through April 30, also serves as a reminder as to the impact inoculation can have on a community.

"We do this every year," said Sue Dale, the district's immunization coordinator. "We feel it's important on an annual basis (to stress) the importance immunization plays in keeping the community healthy.

"There are 14 (vaccine-preventable) diseases the can strike babies at an early age and be especially serious."

In 2010, the United States had over 21,000 cases of whooping cough reported along with 26 deaths, most of whom were children younger than 6 months of age -- the age bracket that benefits most from the "herd immunity" concept.

Some babies are too young to be completely vaccinated, which is why officials encourage those around infants to make sure they are properly inoculated as well.

"Vaccines have really made an impact on infant health," Dale said.

"We want to immunize not only infants, but the people around infants.

"The more we completely immunize the community, the better off it will be."

The whooping cough outbreak that occurred in the Southwest Georgia health district was centered around Grady and Mitchell counties. While there were no local deaths in connection to the outbreak last year, the concept of immunizations are still just as important -- especially in an age during which people are traveling more.

"We've made progress, but a lot of diseases are (present) in other countries," Dale said. "So, even though rates in the U.S. are low (for some illnesses), we do bring in diseases."

Dale also pointed out that immunizations can save families time and money as well as pain and suffering.

"We'd much rather prevent something than treat it," she said. "Illness can cause death, or hospitalization -- and (hospitalizations) cost money. Even when there is no hospitalization, a parent has to stay home when a child is sick -- which results in lost income."

It is also important to note that some of these diseases are properly protected against by a series of vaccinations rather than just one shot.

"A person is not considered completely protected until they get the third in the series," Dale said. "It's important to not only start the series, but finish it."

To find out more about immunizations against vaccine-preventable childhood diseases, contact the local county health department or go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org.