Print Middle school student catches whooping cough
Written by Greg Ruland   
Wednesday, 24 November 2010 00:00

An unidentified Cottonwood Middle School student was diagnosed with pertussis — whooping cough — an uncommon bacterial infection, which causes a severe cough that may lead to serious complications up to and including death, according to Steve Everett, Yavapai County epidemiologist.

In California, nearly 6,800 people were sick with the disease as of Nov. 16. Of those, 10 died, according to the California Department of Public Health. The outbreak in California is considered the worst in more than 60 years.

Arizona experiences an average of between 200 and 300 cases each year. Antibiotics are normally effective in remedying the illness, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Superintendent Barbara U’Ren confirmed the single case at Cottonwood Middle School on Thursday, Nov. 18. She said the district suspected as early as Nov. 5 that the disease, also known as whooping cough, could be present.

Preventing Whooping Cough
According to Arizona Department of Health Services:
  • The cornerstone of pertussis prevention is immunization.
  • Before age 7 and preferably at school entry, children should have received five doses of vaccine.
  • Persons with pertussis should stay home and avoid close contact with others until completion of five days of a prescribed course of antibiotics.
  • Persons with any coughing illness should avoid contact with infants and expectant mothers.
  • Hand washing may prevent the spread of all infectious diseases, including pertussis.

The district sent letters to parents Nov. 5 warning them of the possible exposure, U’Ren said. Automated telephone calls will also be made to alert parents whooping cough has been confirmed within the district, she said.

Everett said the disease is difficult to identify because initial symptoms mimic those of the common cold: congestion, mild cough and fever. Within seven to 10 days, however, severe, persistent coughing begins.

The severe coughing can last for several months and tends to be worse at night. A person with pertussis may look and feel healthy between coughing episodes, according to ADHS.

“Immunized children, adolescents, and adults may have milder symptoms than unimmunized persons,” according to ADHS.

“More than half of infants with pertussis must be hospitalized, and one in five of those will develop pneumonia,” according to Yavapai County Community Health Services. “Pertussis can be deadly, especially in infants.”

Because children often take antibiotics before their pertussis is identified, many cases may go undetected. The CMS case was the first confirmed by lab testing so far this year, Everett said.

Cases of whooping cough have been suspected in the Verde Valley throughout the fall, but the case at CMS is the first instance where a lab has been able to isolate the germ that causes the disease, according to YCCHS.

Whooping cough is spread when a sufferer talks, coughs or sneezes in close proximity to another, who breathes in the bacteria, according to ADHS.

The California outbreak is the worst since 1947, when more than 9,300 cases were reported, according to CDPH. In 2005, another peak year, 3,800 cases were reported.