MARQUETTE - There has been one confirmed case of pertussis - more commonly called whooping cough - in the Marquette Area Public Schools recently. Health professionals want to make sure there aren't more.
Jeanette Wealton, a MAPS nurse, says there has only been one case within the schools and no other scares.
"There have been plenty of sick kids, just none that have pertussis," Said Wealton.
From left, Jeanette Wealton, Marquette Area Public school nurse, takes the temperature of Sam Bradbury, a senior at Marquette High School. Wealton has voiced concerns about whooping cough in the area, including the high school. (Journal photo by Chelsey Roath)
But pertussis outbreaks have been popping up around the country:
- The Associated Press reported Maine health officials were dealing with a rash of whooping cough cases in the last two months. Since Nov. 1, there have been 13 cases of whooping cough in Maine, compared with seven cases in the same period last year.
- Health officials recorded 127 cases of whooping cough in northern Kentucky in 2010, compared to 38 in 2009, according to the AP.
- More than 7,800 cases of whooping cough were reported in California in 2010, including 10 deaths, the AP reported.
In the State of Michigan, children are required to be vaccinated against pertussis in order to enter school, so most school-age children are not susceptible to this disease. If immunized children do get pertussis, it is much less severe than the disease in children who haven't been adequately immunized.
"Although most people get vaccinated at a young age, studies are showing that it may take a booster to keep the immunization going," Wealton said.
Chris St. Louis, an R.N. at Dr. Dan Mitchell's family practice in Iron Mountain, said standards now advise a booster shot for the pertussis vaccine.
"It's known as a TDAP booster," St. Louis said. "When people go in to get their tetanus shot, it is now being recommended that people also get the booster."
Vaccination of pre-teens, teens and adults with TDAP is especially important for families with infants.
Spread through respiratory droplets, primarily through coughing and sneezing, pertussis usually starts with cold symptoms, such as a runny nose and cough, followed by episodes of severe coughing that can last one to two months.
Worldwide there are 30-50 million cases of pertussis and about 300,000 deaths per year. Since the 1980s, there has been an increase in the number of reported cases of pertussis in the U.S., especially among 10-19 year olds and infants under 6 months old.
Whooping cough typically starts with a cough and runny nose for one to two weeks, followed by weeks or months of rapid coughing fits that sometimes end with a whooping sound. Fever is rare.
Unimmunized or incompletely immunized babies are vulnerable, and pregnant women are encouraged to get booster shots. Neither vaccine nor surviving the illness provides lifetime immunity.
Babies need shots at 2, 4 and 6 months of age, with boosters at 15 to 18 months and before kindergarten.
Maine epidemiologist Stephen Sears told the Portland Press Herald that pertussis is a problem across his state and across the country.
He said the pertussis vaccine doesn't always work and some children go unvaccinated, opening the door to the disease.
But the vaccine is still the best protection available, according to Wealton, the MAPS nurse.
"The most effective way to protect yourself and your children is to get vaccinated, of course," Wealton said. But there are other everyday precautions that can help prevent the disease from spreading:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
- Put your tissue in the wastebasket.
- Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing (wash with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner)
Pertussis is generally treated with antibiotics, which are used to control the symptoms and to prevent infected people from spreading the disease.
Chelsey Roath can be reached at 906-225-8930. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.