Pertussis clinic at SVHS on Monday
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, continues to plague the area, where several outbreaks have been reported at schools across the county.
"We currently have a major pertussis outbreak in this county," said Dr. Mark Nertherda, deputy public health officer for Sonoma County, who said the County is seeing higher rates of the illness than other counties in Northern California.
Following several outbreaks that forced schools to close, state legislators passed a law requiring that students from seventh to 12th grade get vaccinated against pertussis before they will be allowed to return to school in the fall. In response, the Sonoma Valley Unified School District is hosting a free clinic at Sonoma Valley High School from noon to 5 p.m. on Monday, May 16, to get as many high school and middle school students vaccinated so there won't be a rush at doctors' offices before school starts in August.
"We're working really hard to make it easy on the parents and the physicians' offices," said Kate Tharler, the school district's nurse, who is coordinating the clinic. "Hopefully, we'll get the majority of the students who are not vaccinated through that clinic."
Tharler said parents at Altimira Middle School, Adele Harrison Middle School and Sonoma Valley High School had been notified by email, phone and with letters sent home with students about the drop-in clinic. Parents must sign two permission slips before their child can be vaccinated, which can be filled out at the clinic or brought in by the student.
"We're planning for a big crowd," Tharler said.
Most children receive the pertussis vaccine at a young age, but immunity wanes and a booster is required around age 10 for immunity to continue into adulthood. Students who have already received the booster are required to bring proof of the vaccine, which can usually be obtained from the primary health provider, into the school before they can return next year.
"People should be getting these vaccines from their general providers," Nertherda said.
Tharler explained that parents can exempt their child from receiving the vaccine due to a medical condition or personal belief. Tharler said the parents have to go in person to the school to fill out an exemption waiver, even if they have already signed one for other vaccines. Exemptions due to medical conditions also requires a physician's note.
Although at least 10 fatal cases of pertussis occurred last year, Sonoma County has seen an influx in the number of cases this year. So far, 56 confirmed cases as well as 19 suspected cases were recorded in 2011, compared with nine confirmed cases and seven probable cases in 2010. The bacterial disease infects the respiratory tract causing a prolonged and severe cough that can also bring a low-grade fever, sneezing and runny nose.
"The fact that we have had 54 cases in the first four months of the year, that's concerning," Nertherda said. "It's not just contained to 2010, for us it's carrying over to 2011."
The disease is particularly deadly to infants, who cannot receive the vaccine until the age of 6 months. To help protect newborns, Sonoma Valley Hospital will vaccinate any individual expected to have close contact with a child born in the hospital's Birth Center. Infection Control Coordinator Courtney McMahon said the hospital has given out approximately 170 vaccines since the program began in July 2010.
"We make a protective cocoon around the baby until it is old enough to be vaccinated," McMahon said.
To learn more about the California pertussis vaccination requirements for students, visit www.shotsforschool.org.