Whooping cough makes a comeback in AlexandriaCan you hear it? It’s the sound of the cold season and it’s already hacking its way through Douglas County. But this year’s cold is different – at least for the teenage population. In the past 34 years that Carole Westby has been the school nurse for Alexandria School District 206, this is the first and only time she has heard about pertussis – which is more commonly referred to as whooping cough – being in the student population.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
Can you hear it?
It’s the sound of the cold season and it’s already hacking its way through Douglas County.
But this year’s cold is different – at least for the teenage population.
In the past 34 years that Carole Westby has been the school nurse for Alexandria School District 206, this is the first and only time she has heard about pertussis – which is more commonly referred to as whooping cough – being in the student population.
“I’ve been expecting it however, as surrounding communities have had outbreaks,” Westby said.
As of Monday, November 17, Westby said the Minnesota Department of Health knew of 27 reported cases of whooping cough in Douglas County. Most, she added, are at the high school level, but some are at Discovery Middle School and also, one each has been reported at Lincoln, Washington and Voyager schools.
She added however, “It’s really hard to come up with a reliable count as many are treated as presumed cases, but are not tested or they are [treated] with antibiotics due to a close contact with a lab-confirmed case.”
Another reason Westby expected a breakout of pertussis is because the last time most people were immunized, they were 6 years old. And now, a new, better-tolerated vaccine, Tdap, has been developed and people should be getting it, she said.
She hopes that next fall, the Minnesota Department of Health or the Centers for Disease Control will implement a requirement that all students either entering kindergarten or 7th grade receive the new pertussis vaccine.
Currently, she added, the only mandated vaccine is for the TD (tetanus and diptheria) or TD booster, not for any pertussis protection.
As for guarding against pertussis in other ways, Westby said, “We all need to do the stuff we know – but hesitate sometimes to implement – to ‘beef up’ our immune response to attacking pathogens.”
Her suggestions include:
• Eating healthfully.
• Exercising daily.
• Getting fresh air and sunshine.
• Getting immunizations.
• Getting enough sleep.
• Having good hygiene practices, such as hand-washing prior to eating and touching your face, no nose-wiping with your hand and covering a cough with your elbow, not your hands.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT PERTUSSIS
Pertussis, or what is more commonly referred to as whooping cough, is a disease that affects the lungs. Pertussis bacteria are spread from person to person through the air.
A person with pertussis develops a severe cough that usually lasts four to six weeks or longer. It can be very serious, especially in infants.
The first symptoms are similar to a cold – sneezing, runny nose, a possible low-grade fever and a cough. After one or two weeks, the cough becomes severe as noted by the following:
Sudden, uncontrollable bursts where one cough follows the next without a break for breath.
A high-pitched whooping sound when breathing in after a coughing episode. This occurs most often in children and is less common in adults and infants.
During a coughing spell, a person may vomit or the person’s face or lips may look blue from lack of oxygen.
A cough that is worse at night. Between coughing spells, however, the person seems well, but the illness is exhausting over time.
Although coughing episodes may become less frequent, they will continue for several weeks or months as the lungs try to heal.
For more information about pertussis, visit the Minnesota Department of Health Web site at www.health.state.mn.us. Type in the word pertussis in the search box in the upper right-hand corner.