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With vaccine programs losing funds, sequester cuts favor disease



In 1674 an English doctor, Thomas Willis, described what we now call whooping cough, a disease chiefly afflicting children and infants and characterized by the distinctive “whooping” of its victims as they struggle to breath:

“The diseased are taken with frequent and very fierce fits of Coughing, wherein namely the Organs of breathing do not only labour in pain, but also being affected convulsively, they do variously suspend or interrupt their actions … inspiration and expiration being suppressed for a space the vital breath can scarcely be drawn; insomuch that coughing as being almost strangled by a hoop, and by reason of the blood stagnating, they contract a blackness in their countenance.”

He considered the disease to be very dangerous. It still is.

That has local physicians worried that the disease is on its way back — and concerned that federal funding cuts could help it spread.

One Las Vegas family doctor, Dr. Maria Emelina Quisumbing of FirstMed Clinic on Eastern Avenue, warned during a recent press conference that whooping cough, or pertussis, is already on the rise, and that the loss of federal funding for immunization programs could make the threat worse.

Southern Nevada Health District numbers indicate that the disease, which can be lethal and is especially virulent in unvaccinated children, is growing. There were 23 reported cases in Southern Nevada in 2010, 20 in 2011, and then 83 last year — 32 in the last three months of the year. In January, the Health District reported five cases. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 41,000 cases, including outbreaks in California and Washington state.

The tragedy is that the disease is nearly 100 percent preventable.

One new group, The Action Nevada, which held the press conference, said that 1,200 low-income children could lose access to vaccine assistance to protect them from whooping cough and other infectious diseases because of federal cuts from the sequester, the across-the-board reductions in federal spending that went into effect March 1.

However, a state official who funds the Southern Nevada immunization effort said that while there may be an impact, it would more likely affect adults rather than children.

Martha Framsted, spokeswoman for the Nevada State Health Division, said local programs are funded through two mechanisms. The immunization program for underinsured and uninsured children will not be immediately affected. But to control whooping cough, doctors also try to insulate children from possible carriers. That means vaccinating the adults around children. “That funding is in jeopardy,” Framsted said.

State and local officials urged parents to get vaccinated, and to vaccinate their children. The whooping cough vaccine is usually included in a vaccine cocktail called TDaP, which also covers diphtheria and tetanus.