Two whooping cough cases confirmed in Washington state, more cases possible

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GRANT COUNTY, Wash. -- Health officials in Grant County are investigating two confirmed cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, with three more "probable" cases and the potential for more people to be infected.

The first person confirmed to have whooping cough has five family members who are also showing symptoms of pertussis, including the whooping cough that accompanies it.

These "probable whooping cough" cases are students at Park Orchard Elementary in Moses Lake, according to Grant County Health, and attended school while contagious.

The second person with a confirmed case of whooping cough is a student at Lake Roosevelt in Grand Coulee.

Exposure letters have been sent to students and parents at impacted schools. Grant County Health stresses that "there is the potential for more cases to occur."

Health officials are working with school nurses and administrators to make sure all students' vaccines are up to date. State law requires a pertussis vaccine in order to register for school.

Whooping cough, according to Grant County Health, is a highly contagious disease spread through droplets in the air or on surfaces when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It starts with a cough that worsens over a one- or two-week period.

If a whooping cough outbreak does happen at a school and your child is not vaccinated, your child could be forced to stay home from school and all school-related activities.

"Any child with symptoms of pertussis (cough) will need to be excluded immediately until further evaluation of cough is completed," Grant County Health officials said in a news release. 

Students can easily spread illnesses to one another because of poor hand washing, uncovered coughs and staying in close proximity to each other.

When children are not up-to-date on all of their shots, they are at higher risk for getting sick and spreading disease to others in their classroom and community – including babies who are too young to get many of the shots, and people with weakened immune systems due other health conditions.

If you have symptoms of whooping cough AND think you may have been exposed, please discuss this with your healthcare provider or call GCHD and speak with a Public Health Nurse (509-766-7960).

It is important to wear a mask (when available) covering your mouth and nose when you visit your doctor’s office to help stop the spread of the disease. Always follow medical directives and stay isolated from others until it is determined that you are not contagious.

Early symptoms can last for 1 to 2 weeks and usually include:

  • Runny nose
  • Low-grade fever (generally minimal throughout the course of the disease)
  • Mild, occasional cough
  • Apnea – a pause in breathing (in babies)

Because whooping cough in its early stages appears to be nothing more than the common cold, it is often not suspected or diagnosed until the more severe symptoms appear.

As the disease progresses, the traditional symptoms of whooping cough may appear after one or two weeks and include:

  • Paroxysms (fits) of many, rapid coughs followed by a high-pitched "whoop"
  • Vomiting during or after coughing fits
  • Exhaustion after coughing fits

It is important to follow the immunizations scheduled because immunity from the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine or disease wears off. The vaccine is particularly important to those who could expose infants (pregnant women, family members, healthcare and daycare workers, etc.) and where the disease can spread rapidly (schools, hospitals, etc.).

Below is the recommended Whooping Cough vaccine schedule:

  1. Babies need 4 DTap vaccines  (at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 15-18 months old),
  2. 5th DTap vaccine at 4-6 years old,
  3. Older children need the Tdap booster at > 10 years old/ before entry into the 6th grade, or after 7 years of age if not properly immunized with DTap according the schedule,
  4. All adults need at least onetime Tdap vaccine; pregnant women need one Tdap each pregnancy.
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