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Whooping cough on the risel; boosters recommended

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The Georgia Department of Public Health reports that metro Atlanta cases of whooping cough have nearly doubled since last year, drawing more attention to the need for vaccines.

As of last week, 95 cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, had been reported this year in an eight-county metro area including Gwinnett, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton, Newton and Rockdale counties. That's compared to just 51 reported cases over the same time period in 2011.

"Though we have not seen a substantial increase in the number of whooping cough cases statewide, the increase in whooping cough cases in highly-populated metro Atlanta is of concern," state epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek said.

As a whole, the United States "appears to be headed for its worst year for whooping cough in more than five decades," health department officials said. Identified by cold-like symptoms followed by a severe cough that can last for months, whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing. It can be serious in infants, especially those too young to be vaccinated.

Adolescents and adults often get a milder case, but can unknowingly spread the disease. As children prepare to go back to school, the state health department issued a reminder that everyone age 11 and older should get a whooping cough booster, called Tdap.

Tdap is just one of several immunizations recommended or required for students entering or returning to Gwinnett County Public Schools.

By state law, children wishing to join in Gwinnett County schools must have a valid immunization form -- or immunization exemption, for medical or religious reasons -- before enrolling.

Children entering the sixth grade must have had the following, according to information on the Gwinnett County Public Schools website:

-- Two doses of the measles vaccine

-- Two doses of the mumps vaccine

-- One dose of the rubella vaccine

-- Two doses of the varicella, or chicken pox, vaccine

In some cases, parents can obtain laboratory proof of immunity against individual diseases. All vaccines must be documented on a valid certificate of immunization, which can only be obtained at doctors' offices or county health departments.

In Gwinnett, immunizations are available at health department locations in Buford, Lawrenceville, Norcross and Lilburn. For more information, visit www.gnrhealth.com.

Students must also have proof of vision, hearing and dental exams obtained in the last year prior to enrolling in school.

For a complete list of suggest vaccines for children and infants, visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines.