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Some bugs have you in their sights

By Corene Brisendine

Every fall there is a push for people to gear up, stock up and immunize for the flu and cold season. Yet each year some areas get overlooked.

“About this time of year when all the kids come together, we see an increase of people coming to the office with colds,” said Karen Hawes, a nurse practitioner on the staff of a local medical firm.

Hawes said because school isn’t in session during the summer, there is less interaction among people, and also less opportunity to pass germs. When the children come back together in a classroom setting, those most hardy germs have a chance to spread.

“It first shows up in schools, then working adults and finally in the geriatric population,” Hawes said.

The biggest concern this year, apart from the common cold, stems from a warning issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of a nation-wide outbreak of whooping cough, or pertussis. According to the CDC, Kansas has increased reporting three-fold within the past year. The state reported 9.4 cases per 100,000 people as of Aug. 11, which is 2.04 cases per 100,000 higher than the national average. In 2011, Kansas reported 72 cases of pertussis, but it has already reported 312 this year.

Hawes said while adults will just feel miserable for a few weeks, the disease can be deadly for children. The elderly are also susceptible.

“We usually think of pertussis in kids, but the elderly community needs to be concerned,” said Vivian Nutsch, infection prevention supervisor for Mercy Regional Health Center.

Nutsch said health care providers used to believe immunizations were good for a lifetime, but they are finding that is not the case.

Hawes and Nutsch both said it was a good idea for the elderly to come in for a booster if they believe they have been exposed to a child with the disease.

“What we are seeing is, ‘My grandchild tested positive and I was told to come and get a tetanus shot,’” Hawes said.

She said the booster is a combination of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, also known as the DTaP booster. Commonly, it is the last booster shot children receive during their 8th grade year in school.

While pertussis is on the rise, Lyme disease was held at bay due to the drought this year. Lyme disease is transmitted through ticks. According to the CDC, there have only been eight cases reported in Kansas this year. Hawes said they saw two cases early this past spring, but due to the drought, none since.

“When you have a drought, ticks are low,” Hawes said. “I was surprised at how early Lyme Disease came on.”

She said the unusually early cases were due to the warm spring that caused plants to bloom earlier than normal, thereby causing ticks to also become more active earlier.

K-Staters have a whole different set of concerns.

Julie Gibbs, director of health promotions at Lafene Health Center, said they usually get new students in this time of year due to allergies. She said new students moving into the area, who already suffer with allergies, come in contact with native trees and flowers that cause them to develop new ones.

For students living in close quarters, the university takes precautions to guard against meningitis and tuberculosis as well.

“Meningitis is always a concern when students live in close quarters like the dorms because people are so close together,” Gibbs said. “Tuberculosis is a new thing; Kansas has made it mandatory to screen though a questionnaire.”

The questionnaire asks questions such as whether students have been exposed to family members with tuberculosis and whether they have ever tested positive for TB.

With fall just around the corner and school already back in session, the one main concern on all health professionals’ minds are flu vaccines. Flu season typically starts in January or February.

“As the year goes on, flu is a big one,” Gibbs said. “Especially as finals approach and their [the students] immune systems get run down.”

Hawes said the shot’s makeup is the same as last year, but people are still encouraged to get it this year.

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