Confirmed and probable cases of whooping
cough in Humboldt County have increased dramatically over the last year,
and health officials say part of the increase can be attributed to a growing
number of parents who choose not to immunize their children.
Whooping cough, known in the medical world as pertussis, is a bacterial infection that causes the lining of the lungs to slough off. Pertussis may cause seizures, pneumonia, encephalitis and death, especially in infants and children who are unable to cough up the lung tissue.
According to the county Health Department, 28 cases of whooping cough were reported in 1998, while only one case was reported in 1997. In 1996, three cases were reported and in 1995 there were 15 known cases. No cases were reported in 1994.
Public health registered nurse Jennifer Richmond said pertussis killed three California infants in 1998, all under the age of 2 months.
"The increase (in Humboldt County) is unusual, but other counties are reporting, during the summer and fall, similar increases," Richmond said.
Under California law, children are scheduled to receive pertussis vaccinations with their diphtheria and tetanus vaccinations before entering kindergarten. But county immunization coordinator Susan Wardrip said some parents object to the vaccinations for religious and philosophical reasons.
"They don't want to put a foreign substance into their child's body," Wardrip said. But, she said, the newest vaccine is safer than the old one, which sometimes causes fever and rarely seizures. And the new vaccine, she said, is 85 to 95 percent effective in preventing pertussis infections.
Wardrip said parents who object to a vaccine can sign a waiver to keep their children from being immunized, but she added that since pertussis is an airborne pathogen, unimmunized children can become ill from breathing infected air. If schoolmates become infected, un-immunized children must be quarantined.
Although infants and toddlers are most susceptible, Richmond said adults may also catch whooping cough. The problem is exacerbated by doctors' tendency to diagnose patients with bronchitis when in fact they have pertussis.
The possibility of a nationally administered pertussis vaccine for adults is being considered, Wardrip said.
"(An adult pertussis) shot would keep older people from being the reservoir for the disease," she said. "They're the ones responsible for giving it to the babies."
Currently, only children under the age of 7 are vaccinated for pertussis. The vaccine is administered in five doses beginning when the child is two months old. The last dose is given when the child is between 4 and 6 years old.
Symptoms of pertussis include a runny nose and a spastic cough lasting more than two weeks. The cough often has a distinct "whoop" sound and may be followed by gagging or vomiting.
For more information about pertussis or immunizations, call the Health Department at 445-6200.
Traveling up to 300 miles to receive medical care will soon become a thing of the past for thousands of military veterans in Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
A Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic is scheduled to open Jan. 25 in Eureka. The clinic will offer a full range of medical services for veterans with preventative, chronic and acute medical conditions. The clinic will also handle prescriptions, although surgery and emergency medical care will not be available.
Until now the closest access to VA services was 149 miles away in Redding, and some of the region's 15,000 veterans were traveling as far as Oakland to get medical treatment.
After a bidding process, the VA chose the Humboldt Occupational and Environmental Medical Group to provide services for the clinic. HOEM hired a full-time doctor and a physician's assistant to help staff the clinic. Both new employees are also veterans.
Eris Wagner, co-owner of HOEM, said all services at the clinic will be free to any veteran honorably discharged from the military, regardless of income. Free hospitilization will still be available at the VA clinics in Redding and the San Francisco Bay area.
The clinic is located at the HOEM facility at 727 E St. in downtown Eureka. Appointments may be scheduled beginning Jan. 20. For more information, call 442-5335.
There was jubilation in Redway last week when the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced its nominees for the 41st Annual Grammy Awards. An album released on the local label Bembé Records, Babalu Aye by Chucho Valdes and Irakere, is among six releases in contention for the "Best Tropical Latin Performance Award."
For Jimmy Durchslag and David Peñalosa, who founded Bembé three years ago, the news is a dream come true.
"The Grammy is probably the most prestigious award in the music industry," said Durchslag. "It's very well known. It can be difficult for an independent to establish an identity and just being nominated brings recognition. For a label like ours that is so small, anything that gives you more credibility helps with the buyers, with stores, with radio. They all pay attention to these things."
The record has been one of Bembé's best sellers. The Southern Humboldt company sold out the first 3,000 CDs and had to have more made. With the additional interest the nomination is expected to generate, Bembé hopes to sell even more.
"Our biggest challenge right now is to make sure the product is in stock," said Peñalosa. "We don't know what the effect will be. It's possible it could double our sales once we slap the `nominated for a Grammy' stickers on."
The record label is the end result of years of intense interest on the part of Peñalosa and Durchslag in Afro-Cuban music. In addition to running the record company, both men play music in the salsa band Kachimbo.
"We're very focused in the music we put out," said Durchslag. "It's all Afro-Cuban music. The identity we're trying to establish is top quality and cutting edge. Whether it's folkloric, Latin jazz or the popular dance music, it's all the progressive creative stuff."
According to Peñalosa, the next step in the process comes on Feb. 24. "We go to Hollywood and sit there in the audience and they announce the winner. All those pop stars and icons of the industry will be there."
Does Bembé have a chance?
"It's a long shot," Peñalosa admitted. "We're up against Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri plus a couple of the more modern salsa pop stars. All the other records are from labels owned by multi-national corporations, and we're little Bembé out in the redwoods. We're the only independent record label. We look at it as sort of a David vs. Goliath situation."
Holding true to his "Put the Fat Cats on a Diet" campaign literature, newly elected state Sen. Wesley Chesbro has decided to donate his $21,000 pay raise to charity.
A state commission of citizens, established after the passage of term limit legislation in 1990, recently approved a salary increase for elected California officials from $78,624 to $99,000. But Chesbro, D-Arcata, has refused to take the increase, partly because state workers haven't received a raise in four years.
"I think (the raise) was excessive in light of the fact that there were so many unmet needs in the state," Chesbro said in a telephone interview from Sacramento. "It was just way more than is justified."
But the cut to Chesbro's paycheck isn't as dramatic as it may seem.
Chesbro's salary is now about $27,000 less than the $106,000 he was making annually as a member of the state Solid Waste Management Board, however he now receives $119 a day for personal expenses whenever the legislature is in session. That amounts to about $30,000 a year.
Chesbro said the full amount of his donation will be deducted from his paycheck and turned over the the Humboldt Area Foundation, which supports charities and nonprofit organizations in Humboldt, Del Norte and the western parts of Siskyou and Trinity counties.
Although no money has been distributed, Chesbro said his office is currently reviewing requests for donations from the seven counties he represents.
Chesbro, a former Humboldt County supervisor and Arcata City Council member, said he will donate the pay increase in each of the four years of his term.
Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, D-Duncans Mills, said she would accept the raise.
Robyn Boyer-Stewart, Strom-Martin's chief of staff said that legislators do not receive pensions and must provide for their own retirement.
The Area Agency on Aging, the lead administrative planning agency for aging and volunteer services in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, has hired a new executive director.
Sandra K. Fitzpatrick, 45, assumed her new duties earlier this month after former executive director Patty Berg retired.
Since Berg formed the agency in 1980, the AAA has grown to fund a network of 29 services, most of which are provided by partner agencies such as the Humboldt Senior Resource Center, Northcoast Advocacy Services and the county Health Department.
"Patty created the agency and left it very strong and well-respected," Fitzpatrick said. "I've got a role model there who is hard to emulate.
"I'm looking forward to seeing that the agency continues to be recognized as a leader, and I want to make sure the community knows there is a wealth of senior resources available."
A native of Humboldt County, Fitzpatrick joined the agency in 1985 as program planner and was named deputy director in 1988.
She is also a member of the board of directors for the Redwood Coast Music Festival and a member of the board for Butler Valley Inc., a nonprofit agency that operates two homes for developmentally disabled adults.
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