Pertussis shot to be required for seventh-grade students in Iowa

New regulation takes effect in fall; new shot also needed for children who were vaccinated in kindergarten

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This fall, a few Iowa teens might be saying "ouch."

Beginning with the 2013-14 school year, incoming  students in certain grades will be required to have the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (TDAP) vaccine.

"The best way to prevent them coming sick with whooping cough is vaccination," said Heather Meador, a nurse with Linn County Public Health. “The best way to stop the spread is immunization.”

The requirement went into effect on Jan. 16 and requires that any student born on or after Sept. 15, 2000 and entering grade seven through 12 gets the shot as well.

Iowa experienced a pertussis (also known as whooping cough) outbreak last fall. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, 1,647 cases of pertussis were reported in the state through all of 2012 -- seven times the amount in 2011, and more than twice as many during Iowa's previous outbreak in 2010. Last year, Linn County led the state in instances of pertussis with 283.

According to public health data, children ages 10 through 14 were infected with the highest number of cases statewide during both the 2010 and 2012 outbreaks. The bacterial infection spreads through air droplets and can keep students out of school for as many as 21 days, depending on when they are diagnosed and whether they choose to take antibiotic treatment.

"With whooping cough, it is so highly, highly infectious," Meador said. "We see it spread around middle and high schools so frequently."

She cited the close contact preadolescents have with each other – playing on sports teams and participating in activities – as a reason that age group is so susceptible to the illness. Further complicating matters is that, while the state requires kindergarten students to have a series of five vaccinations known as the DTAP to protect against pertussis, by the time students reach seventh grade, the effectiveness has worn off, making a booster shot all the more necessary.

Meador said discussions about mandating the vaccine took place before the most recent outbreak. Spikes in pertussis rates "are cyclical," she noted, but the new requirement is expected to lower the intensity.

"We see pertussis throughout the year every year," Meador said. "The goal is that we will see a dramatic decrease in the numbers of individuals who are infected with pertussis."

Seventh-graders who have already received the TDAP booster will not have to get another one in order to attend school this fall.

From now through June 1, Linn County Public Health will provide the vaccine to anyone age 11 or older, regardless of insurance status, who is eligible to receive it.

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