Six cases of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, have been confirmed in the School District of Waukesha since October, according to the Waukesha County Division of Public Health.
Five of the confirmed cases were at Horning Middle School and another was at Blair Elementary, according to Rosie Kapp, Public Health Supervisor. Another suspected case at Horning is pending test results.
There has been an upsurge in pertussis cases throughout Waukesha County and at other schools. In the last quarter of 2011, there were 80 confirmed cases of pertussis in the county, Kapp said.
“We are seeing an increase in pertussis throughout the entire state of Wisconsin and also in Waukesha County,” said Kapp. “The majority of cases are in schools, with one case or a cluster of cases at individual schools like Horning, which is a small cluster of cases.”
Pertussis is usually spread by repeated indoor face-to-face contact with a person who is sick with pertussis.
According to a notification letter sent to Horning parents, the Waukesha County Public Health Division is conducting an investigation to identify close contacts who may be at risk of catching pertussis. Close contacts will be notified and given instructions regarding preventative antibiotic treatment. For others, the risk of illness is lower.
Pertussis symptoms begin with a slight cold and cough that becomes much worse over one to two weeks. Symptoms usually include a long series of coughs (“coughing fits”) followed by a whooping noise. However, older children, adults and very young infants may not develop a whoop.
As a precaution, families are urged to watch for symptoms of pertussis that could occur within the next few weeks as a result of exposure. If illness with a severe cough occurs, people are urged talk to the child’s doctor. Pertussis is treated with antibiotics. Other than seeing the doctor, the ill person should remain at home.
Pertussis can cause serious illness ― especially in infants too young to be fully vaccinated. For families with children who are 6 years of age or younger, the Waukesha County Public Health Division recommends that their immunization records be checked. Children should receive DTaP at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15-18 months, and 4-6 years of age. A new pertussis vaccine booster for adolescents (Tdap) is recommended for adolescents 11-12 years of age. It’s recommended that older children and adults should also get the Tdap vaccine.
While they have seen pertussis in people who have received the vaccination, generally the cases will be milder, Kapp said. Plus, it can prevent the spread of the disease to others.
“We encourage people to get the pertussis vaccine,” she said. “That’s the best measure to protect yourself.”
Among vaccine-preventable diseases, pertussis is one of the most commonly occurring ones in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is high pertussis vaccine coverage for children nationwide. However, protection from the childhood vaccine decreases over time, according to the CDC. Preteens, teens and adults need to be re-vaccinated, even if they were completely vaccinated as children.
In infants less than six months of age, the most common complication is bacterial pneumonia (17 percent) followed by neurologic complications such as seizures (2.1 percent) and encephalopathy (0.2 percent). Loss of weight from nutritional disturbance and dehydration is also a complication from the disease. More than half of the infants with confirmed pertussis require hospitalization.