San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Whooping Cough Emergency Declared

The government has declared a state of “sanitary emergency” following the death of four babies from pertussis, also known as whooping cough, a respiratory disease particularly serious in young infants, during the past month.

According to Public Health Minister Maria Luisa Avila, the country needs to begin vaccinating parents, who are the primary culprits in inadvertently passing the bacteria to their children.

Avila said the Health Ministry is planning a 42,000-dose, $320,000 vaccination campaign against pertussis focusing on new mothers and their partners. Of the reported cases of whooping cough at the National Children’s Hospital in San José, 66% of the children got the disease from their mothers, 20% from their fathers and the rest from other family members, she said.

The coordinator of the Health Ministry’s Immunization Commission, Dr. Daniel Salas, estimated the campaign could begin as soon as this month.

Any adult or adolescent with a cough that lasts more than a week without fever may have whooping cough and should seek medical evaluation for any children in their homes, Avila said. In its advanced stages, the disease produces a cough with a sound like a “whoop,” giving the illness its name. It is treated using antibiotics.

Over the course of the coming year, the government plans to expand the campaign by purchasing 140,000 doses of the vaccine from the World Health Organization (WHO) to immunize newborns, increasing the investment to $1.2 million.

Children currently receive immunizations against whooping cough, and Salas said the ministry is planning to incorporate another immunization for 14-year-olds into the national vaccine program because immunization wears off over the years.

Health Minister Avila added that the babies who died recently were less than two months old and lived in shantytowns, and that the provinces of Cartago, east of San José, and Heredia, north of San José, have been the hardest hit by the disease.

Since November 2005, 11 children have died here from whooping cough.


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