Hardy Plumbing
December 14, 2011

Whooping Cough Case Reported In Southampton



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The Southampton Elementary School student infected with the highly contagious whooping cough was in class when school officials learned the child had been diagnosed. The youngster, whom school officials would not identify, was sent home right away.

Now, whether it's a case of closing the classroom door after the hacking horse is already loose, or whether disinfecting and notification protocols followed by district employees are sufficient to staunch the spread of whooping cough remains to be seen.

Last Wednesday, Superintendent Richard Boyles sent letters to all district parents. He said Thursday that a similar alert was posted on the school's website and the district's automated system also robo-called parents.

The district already has "pretty strict" cleaning procedures, Dr. Boyles explained. However, once the diagnosis was revealed, he spoke to the facilities director. "He made sure all his people were aware of it," Dr. Boyles said. Using disinfectant, all horizontal surfaces, including those on busses, were sanitized. The superintendent noted that universal preventative measures – such as encouraging kids to wash their hands and cough into their elbows, are covered in health classes.

Asking for "cooperation and trust" from parents Boyles' letter states, "Please be assured that the school district is strictly following all recommended protocols both for the proper cleaning of all school furniture and facilities, as well as for the eventual re-admittance of the infected student."

In addition to cleaning protocols, district officials also monitored daily attendance for students and staff, the superintendent reported. When students are absent, district officials call to find out why, he explained. As of last Thursday, district attendance was "normal," at the average of 95 percent attendance.

The notification letter included information from the Suffolk County Department of Health, outlining whopping cough symptoms and treatment.

Also known as pertussis, whopping cough is one of the most commonly occurring vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States. Worldwide there are an average of 30 to 50 million cases each year, accounting for some 300,000 deaths. In this country, there were 27,550 cases reported last year, but officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe many more cases go unreported.

The disease starts like the common cold, with runny nose or congestion, sneezing and a mild cough or fever. After a week or two, the couch ratchets up and coughing fits can last for weeks. In fact it's been dubbed "the 100 day cough," because coughing fits due to pertussis can persist up to 10 weeks. Violent and rapid coughing occurs over and over until the air is gone from the lungs and the patient is forced to inhale with a loud whooping sound.

The disease is dangerous for infants. More than half of newborn babies less than a year old must be hospitalized if they catch pertussis.

And why is it easy to catch? Like the common cold, pertussis spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes in close contact with others. According to the New York State Department of Health website, the incubation period for pertussis can range anywhere from four to 21 days before symptoms appear. That means the infected Southampton student could have been contaminating other kids for as many as three weeks before diagnosis. Untreated, a person can transmit pertussis from the onset of symptoms to three weeks after the coughing starts.

The CDC reports an uptick in cases since the 1980s, particularly among youth 10 to 19 years old and infants under six months. In a news report regarding an outbreak in Northport earlier this fall, Dr. Dennis Russo, director of public health preparedness for Suffolk County reported cases almost doubled last year's figures – from 110 to 216. He attributed the increase to better recognition and diagnosis of the disease, but also said it could be related to the decision to forgo vaccinations made by some parents.

Not that a vaccine is a guarantee. Pertussis immunizations fade over time. So having had a shot at some point in your life doesn't mean you're still immune. Researchers from the CDC studied the immunization records of 220,000 kids born in Minnesota between 1998 and 2003 and compared them to the state's pertussis monitoring system, following up for six years. They learned that between 2004 and 2010 521 out of the 220K developed whooping cough; their risk of catching the disease increasing each year after the final shot. Children were seven times more likely to develop whopping cough six years after their last shot than one year after they'd been vaccinated.

The test results underscore the need for booster shots. The recommended vaccine to protect against pertussis is called DTaP. It's a combo vaccine that targets three diseases, whopping cough, diphtheria and tetanus. Pertussis is easily treated with antibiotics. The period of communicability is reduced to five days after treatment with antibiotics, according the state health department's "Information for a Healthy New York" website.

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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