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Whooping Cough case confirmed at HCMS

A case of whooping cough has been confirmed in a Halifax County Middle School student, Southside Health District Director Charles J. Devine III, M. D., said late last week. Parents of children in classes and who ride the bus with the infected student, as well as those who are friends with the student will be notified by letter, Deputy Superintendent Larry Clark said Friday morning.

Health officials are concerned because of the increase in cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, throughout Virginia and the fact that immunity to the disease is not lifelong, Devine said in a press release.

“This means that people vaccinated in childhood may no longer be protected,” he added.

Whooping cough can be a very serious disease, particularly for infants less than one year of age, he explained.

Since it is quite contagious, the disease can easily spread through the air from a sick person during talking, sneezing or coughing.

The illness starts with symptoms similar to a common cold. Children suffering from whooping cough often develop coughing fits, especially at night, giving a high-pitched “whoop” sound, Devine said.

The “whoop” is a sign that the person is struggling to breathe between coughs. The disease can be very severe and, although deaths are rare, they do occur, especially in infants less than one year of age, he added.

Devine said making sure that children receive all their shots on time is the best way to control this disease in the future. Children should receive four doses of DTaP vaccine by 15 months of age and an additional dose of DTaP before they start school.

The Southside Health District Director urged parents to check their children’s shot records to be sure they have received all their shots.

“If they are not sure they are completely immunized, they should contact their family doctor or their local health department to bring their children’s immunizations up to date as soon as possible,” he said.

Adults and children 7 years and older usually develop a much milder form of pertussis. Anyone who is suspected of having whooping cough or who is exposed to a person with the disease should be seen by his or her physician, Devine said.

He also offered the following facts about pertussis or whooping cough:

• The pertussis vaccine given to all babies and before children start school loses effectiveness after five to 10 years.

• There is no vaccine licensed for people over age 7.

• Most infections are in older children and adults who can infect infants who are not fully immunized.

• Infants have the most severe illnesses; three have died of pertussis in Virginia since 2000.

• Many people over age 10 who have close contact with someone with pertussis will become infected although the disease may be mild in most.

• Lots of infected older children and adults will have a severe coughing illness lasting as long as 10 weeks.

• The illness starts like a cold, and the cough starts later.

• Antibiotic treatment must be started within a few days of the start of the cough to shorten the illness duration.

• Antibiotics are given during the later part of the illness to reduce the time that the sick person can infect other people.

• It takes five days of antibiotics to be sure the infected person can’t pass the disease to others.

• Even after the bacteria are killed by antibiotics, people starting treatment after coughing several days may continue to cough for a long time because of the effects of a “toxin” that was made by the bacteria.

• Tests for pertussis are much better now but they still can give false results, especially if done too early or too late in the illness.

• When there are several cases of pertussis in a school, the only way to stop the disease from spreading to lots of people is to treat everyone with symptoms or close contact with infected students.