Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

Due to the recent media releases regarding pertussis, I am sending this information.  To all staff and parents/guardians:  I hope this information is helpful.

            Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a vaccine preventable respiratory illness that can cause serious complications.  It is caused by a bacterium, Bordatella pertussis.  People can get pertussis by breathing in droplets that have been coughed or sneezed into the air by an infected person.  It can also be spread by direct contact with discharge from the nose or throat of an infected person.  Unvaccinated children and infants who have not been fully vaccinated are at highest risk for getting pertussis.  Unfortunately, vaccinated people are also vulnerable, since immunity decreases over 5-10 years.  Most vaccinated older teens/adults only get a mild case (estimates show 7% of all adult colds are really pertussis), but these teens/adults can spread the disease to the high-risk groups (infants, unvaccinated people and those with poor immune systems).

            The illness usually begins with mild cold-like symptoms. Any fever is usually under 101 degrees.  Within 2 weeks, the cough becomes much worse with uncontrolled rapid coughing spells followed by an intake of breath that sounds like a “whoop”.  Coughing spells may sometimes be so bad that the child may have a hard time eating, drinking or even breathing.  This cough can be worse at night and last 1-2 months.  Years ago, pertussis was known as the “100 day cough”.  Persons are most likely to spread the illness in the first 2 weeks after the cough starts.

            Only your physician can diagnose pertussis.  This is done by swabbing the back of the patient’s nasal passages and testing for the bacteria.  Treatment with antibiotics (usually Zithromax) does not cure the illness, but can make the illness less severe and reduce risk of further spread.  Infected persons can still spread pertussis until five days after antibiotic treatment has begun.

            Here are some suggestions to control the spread of the disease:

1.  Make sure any children in your home are up to date on their vaccinations.

2.  Make sure to wash your hands frequently.  Hand washing is an inexpensive and effective way to prevent the spread of disease.  Teachers and school nurses are encouraged to remind students to wash their hands during the school day.

3.  Use respiratory etiquette.  When coughing or sneezing, use a tissue to cover your cough or sneeze.  If no tissues are available, cough or sneeze into your elbow.  Dispose of tissues properly.  If someone around you is coughing or sneezing, offer them a tissue.

4.  If you or someone in your family is concerned or has symptoms, please call your family physician.  Your physician can do appropriate testing and prescribe antibiotics to the patient and close contacts if actually needed.

5.  Soak combs, brushes, etc., in hot water.
The hotter the better, but the temperature should be at least
130°F.  Items should soak for at least 10 minutes.

6.  Vacuum everywhere.
To make sure the rest of your home is louse-free,
you should vacuum carpets, pillows, mattresses, upholstered
furniture, even the car seats.

Note:  Getting head lice is not everything you may think it is.  It is NOT a sign of poor health habits or being dirty.