Ferndale School District advised Horizon Middle School and Ferndale High School students and their families today that there has been 2 confirmed cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, 1 in each school.
As a result of the 2 confirmed cases, the following letter from the Whatcom County Health Department was emailed to families with students attending either school according to the Ferndale School District.
A student that attends [Horizon Middle School / Ferndale High School] has been diagnosed with Confirmed pertussis (whooping cough). People who were within three feet of this individual for more than one hour could come down with symptoms mid-February through late March. Although time has passed since the initial exposure we are sending you information so you know what to look for in case your child became ill with a cough illness that is continuing or your child is experiencing fits of coughing especially if associated with vomiting or gagging.
• Not everyone who has a cough has pertussis. There are many other illnesses that can cause a cough and we are in the middle of influenza season. Influenza will typically cause a high fever while pertussis does not. The pertussis bacteria will respond to antibiotics but only in the early stage of the disease (first 3 weeks) so your child may not need medication if the cough has been going on for over 3 weeks.
• Pertussis requires close contact with an infected person in order to spread.
• Pertussis can cause severe illness in infants, and usually milder disease in older children and adults.
• People exposed to pertussis cannot pass it on to others unless they become sick themselves.
What you should do if your child has been ill with a prolonged cough (over 2-3 weeks) or fits of coughing
• If the cough has been within the last 2-3 weeks, keep your child at home and avoid close contact with settings where there are small children, infants or pregnant women in their 3rd trimester.
• Remind your child to cover his/her mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
• Contact your child’s health care provider or go to a hospital emergency room or urgent care clinic. Tell your child’s health care provider about this letter or take it with you.
• If your child or someone in your household is in a high-risk category, be sure to tell the doctor. Pertussis testing should be considered (if the cough has been within 2-3 weeks). The high-risk categories are:
o Infants under 1 year of age or pregnant women in the last 3 months of pregnancy
o Health care workers with face-to-face patient contact
o Persons living or working with infants or pregnant women
What everyone should do, even if your child isn’t sick. (Remember that it is also flu season!)
• Be sure everyone in your household is up-to-date with vaccinations.
• Wash hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
• If you have a baby, keep the baby away from people that are sick.
According to the Whatcom County Health Department website, pertussis “symptoms appear from 5 to 21 days after exposure to the bacteria, but sometimes not for as long as 6 weeks in infants. The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. After 1 – 2 weeks, severe coughing may begin. Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continue for weeks. In infants, the cough can be minimal. Infants may experience apnea, which is a pause in the breathing pattern. Extreme coughing can cause vomiting and fatigue.”
Additionally, “Pertussis is spread through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes while in close contact with others. People treated with appropriate antibiotics can still spread the disease until they have taken antibiotics for a full 5 days. If antibiotics are not taken, the person can be contagious from the onset of symptoms until 3 weeks after the coughing spells start.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, “While pertussis vaccines are the most effective tool to prevent this disease, no vaccine is 100% effective. When pertussis circulates in the community, there is a chance that a fully vaccinated person, of any age, can catch this disease. If you have gotten the pertussis vaccine but still get sick, the infection is usually not as bad.”
The Ferndale School District advises calling your usual health care provider for more information.
Last year saw 2 confirmed cases of pertussis reported by the Ferndale School District.