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For the past 10 years, the United States has been wrestling with a resurgence of pertussis as outbreaks strike in different states. In 2013, cases subsided in most of Minnesota, but spiked in Texas and North Carolina, for example. California reported 2,372 cases, 132 hospitalizations and one death – of a two-month-old.
But one thing has changed little in the last few years: Pertussis vaccination of health care workers. By 2012, only about 31% of health care workers had received the recommended one-time booster Tdap, which protects against pertussis as well as tetanus and diphtheria.1 That was just a slight increase from a rate of 27% in 2011, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.2
“Every institution ought to think about this very seriously and ought to have a [pertussis vaccination] program,” says William Schaffner, MD, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, and past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. “At the least, emergency, pediatrics and obstetrics [personnel] ought to be thoroughly covered.”
Schaffner notes that infants and children, who are the most vulnerable, may be seen in other units as well, such as orthopedics.
More than 24,000 pertussis cases were reported to CDC last year. But the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) notes that those reports are “only the tip of the iceberg” and the actual number of annual cases is likely to be a million or more. In a position statement, ACOEM advised occupational health providers “to assign high priority to vaccinating health care workers as soon as feasible.”
-- Michele Marill, For more on this story see the May 2014 issue of Hospital Employee Health