Staying Healthy: Avoiding Spreadable Illnesses

Those in the agricultural industry often work close together, which is why it is vital to know how to keep you and your family healthy and protected from some of the most contagious illnesses. Below is information on a few of the most common and prevalent illnesses affecting farm workers.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory infection that is caused by the bacterium B. pertussis. The infection is easily transmitted from person to person through coughing, sneezing, and/or sharing saliva. Whooping cough usually starts with a mild cough, runny nose and a fever. While the symptoms are much like those of a common cold, after a couple of weeks, whooping cough can cause severe coughing spells that can make breathing difficult and cause vomiting. These violent coughing fits can last weeks or even months. In recent years, the number of whooping cough cases has risen. The amount of whooping cough cases this year has already surpassed the amount of cases recorded in 2013. Latinos, especially those working in the agriculture industry, tend to be more affected by this illness than others. According to the state Department of Public Health, Latino babies under six months old have a rate of infection of 94 per 100,000 babies – much higher than babies of other ethnicities. In 2010,all of the babies who died from whooping cough were Latino under the age of two months old. Whooping cough mainly affects infants, young adults, and the elderly. The infection poses a strong threat to infants and anyone over the age of sixty-five. Because early symptoms are similar to the common cold, whooping cough is not diagnosed until symptoms get worse. The best way to prevent whooping cough is to get vaccinated. All California public schools require a pertussis vaccination, and the California Department of Public Health recommends that everyone gets vaccinated against the illness, especially women of childbearing age, those that have close contact with infants, anyone over sixty-five years of age, as well as infants and children not already vaccinated for whooping cough. The pertussis vaccine only provides5-10 years of protection. After the vaccine becomes ineffective it is recommended for adolescent and adults to receive an additional booster shot (Tdap).For reference, below is a list of persons who should get vaccinated.

n Adults who did not receive a booster shot as a teenager, especially anyone who cares for babies under one year old.

n Adult Pregnant Women, even if they have been previously vaccinated.

n Children 2 months to 7 years old should receive one dose at each of the following ages

• 2 months

• 4 months

• 6 months

• 15-18 months

• 4-6 years

n Kids 7 to 10 years old that did not receive all 5 doses above.

n Teens 11 – 18 years old


Mumps is a rare virus but it is extremely contagious under the right conditions. Mumps virus is spread from person to person through infected saliva or by being too close to an infected individual. A major reason there are mumps outbreaks is when people work or live in crowded environments. You can contract mumps by breathing in saliva droplets of an infected person who has sneezed or coughed. Many people infected with the mumps virus show no symptoms or very mild ones. When symptoms do develop, it is generally two to three weeks after an individual has been exposed to the virus. Mump symptoms include: swollen salivary gland(s), fever, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, and pain while chewing or swallowing. If not treated, mumps can cause serious complications, which can include infertility in men, inflammation of the brain or spinal cord, inflammation of ovaries, and deafness. The best way to prevent mumps is through vaccination. All California public schools require mumps vaccination. Those who should get vaccinated are:

n Children one dose at 12 to 15

months and another dose at 4 to 6 years old.

n Adults 19 to 55 years old whom have previously never received the vaccination and have not been infected with mumps.

Some things farmworkers can do to keep from contracting mumps is:

n Wash your hands well with soap and teach children to wash their hands too.

n Do not share eating and drinking utensils when eating.

n Clean surfaces that are touched often such as door knobs and counters.

n Do not come in close contact with someone when they are infected with mumps.

n Cover your mouth or nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow.

If you suspect you have mumps you should immediately schedule an appointment with a doctor. Because mumps is a virus, it does not respond to antibiotics or other medication. If infected, it is important to rest and drink plenty of fluids. You can usually return to work or school about one week after you are diagnosed with mumps, if you feel ready. By this point you are no longer contagious. Most people who get mumps cannot contract the disease again.


Almost 1 out of 3 people will get shingles. Anyone who has had chickenpox may develop shingles in their lifetime. This is because the chickenpox virus stays inactive in the nervous system through a person’s lifetime. Usually, the virus remains inactive. If the virus becomes active again it will cause shingles, not chicken pox. As a person gets older the risk of getting shingles gets higher. Most of shingles cases occur in men and women over 60 years old. Shingles is most common in older adults or individuals that have a weakened immune system. Shingles may cause a very painful skin rash that usually appears in one small area on one side of the face or body. Shingles symptoms happen in stages. The first signs of shingles may include headaches, sensitivity to light, or flu like symptoms without a fever. The next stages may include itching, tingling, or pain in certain areas. This area of skin is where a rash will occur a few days later. The rash is a cluster of blisters that may take two to four weeks to heal, and may leave scars. Shingles is treated with antiviral medication and pain relievers.

 If a rash occurs on the face it is important to call a doctor right away so that vision loss may be prevented. Shingles is contagious when the blisters caused by the virus scab over. An individual with shingles should avoid physical contact with anyone who is not immune to the chicken pox. Transmission usually occurs through direct contact with open shingle sores. If you have or think you have shingles:

  • Seek immediate help
  • Keep the rash covered
  • Avoid touching or scratching the rash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Avoid contact with pregnant women, infants, and people with weakened immune systems

You cannot catch shingles from someone else who has it, but you can spread the chickenpox virus to someone who has never had the chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccination. Once infected,the person will develop chickenpox, not shingles.

To prevent shingles there are two options. If you have never had chickenpox you can receive a chicken pox vaccination to prevent both chickenpox and the future development of shingles. There is also a one-shot vaccination for the shingles virus, and if you already have shingles it is not too late for the vaccine to help you. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people over 60 receive a shingles vaccination. Shingles is not life threating, but vaccinations can prevent you from getting the virus and developing debilitating side effects.

For more information about whoopingcough, mumps, or shingles pleasecontact the CDC at or call1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-6348).